How to Cope With the Mental Health Effects After an Abortion?

Having an abortion can be a very emotional experience. It’s important to be aware of how we might feel after an abortion and to know where we can get help if we need it. However, we should also remember that having an abortion doesn’t always cause negative emotions or mental health conditions. We’re all different and the ways we respond to this experience can be very different too.

The Emotional Effects of Abortion

It’s impossible to predict exactly how you will feel after an abortion, but it’s a good idea to consider how you might feel so that you can be prepared. Try to imagine that you have already had the abortion and how that makes you feel. It can also be helpful to imagine that you have gone ahead with the pregnancy.

How do you feel when you picture yourself in that situation?

You will probably find that there is a mix of positive and negative emotions in both of these situations. Some of the emotions that you might feel at different times (whether you have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy) might include:

  • Relief and feeling that you made the best choice for you or your family
  • Sadness or a sense of loss about what could have been
  • Guilt that you had to make this decision
  • Blaming yourself or your partner for the unwanted pregnancy
  • Anxiety about having sex again and the risk of another pregnancy

You should also be aware that your feelings will change over time. Some women feel sad for a short time and then recover quickly while others will experience a more severe or lasting sense of loss. In some cases, women feel relieved and happy with their decision, but then experience feelings of grief months or even years later. However, most women who consider their options carefully and feel confident about their decision when they make it will continue to feel the same way most of the time.

Even if you occasionally wonder what might have been or feel a bit sad, it is unlikely that you will experience mental health issues as a result of having an abortion. Having the occasional sad thought or needing some time to work through negative emotions is not the same as having a mental health condition. A mental health disorder is a medical condition that affects the way you think, feel or behave in ways that affect your ability to complete your usual work, social or family activities.

Does Having an Abortion Raise the Risk of Mental Health Problems?

About 1 in 3 of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Going through a difficult experience can make us more likely to be in that group, but having an abortion is no more traumatic than having a baby. Both of these experiences can trigger conditions like depression in a small number of women, especially if the pregnancy was unwanted. If you are at higher risk, for example if you have a history of mental health problems, then it is important to ensure you have all the support you need in either situation. However, most women will be able to go through these experiences without developing a mental health disorder.

Where to Get Help

It is important to get all the support you need before, during and after your abortion so that you can protect your mental health and deal with the emotional impact of this experience. You might want to:

  • Discuss your options with an experienced doctor so that you can make an informed choice that feels right for you. Take as much time as you need to feel sure about your decision.
  • Talk to your partner, a friend, or family member about how you feel. It can also help to connect with people who have been through similar experience, for example through an online support group. If you don’t feel comfortable talking then it might help to write your feelings down instead, even if you don’t let anyone else read it.
  • Take some time to be by yourself if you need to think or just to give yourself a chance to relax and take your mind off things.
  • Make sure that you have someone there to take you home from the clinic and to stay with you while you are recovering. Just having some company or someone to make you a cup of tea can make a huge difference.
  • Remember that everyone is unique so there is no need to justify or feel bad about your emotions, whatever they are. You don’t have to feel sad or talk about your abortion if you don’t want to. Just do what feels right for you.

If you need more support or your mental health is having a negative impact on your life and activities, then you should seek help from:

  • Your GP, who can diagnose mental health disorders, prescribe medication, recommend lifestyle changes that could improve your mental wellbeing, or refer you on to a therapist or specialist.
  • The doctor who performed your abortion, if you need support or you have questions about the procedure.
  • A therapist who will help you to work through your feelings or offer practical tips and techniques to help you cope, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you to manage negative thoughts and behaviours.
  • Mental health charities, such as Mind, which can help you to understand yourself better and connect you with other sources of support.

You can ask for help at any time. Even if it is many years since you had your abortion, help is available if you are feeling anxious, depressed or you just need to talk about your experiences and feelings. You should treat your mental health in the same way as your physical health. Do what you can to look after yourself and ask for help when you need it.

Do you have any other tips for coping with negative emotions?

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