How does FGM/C affect my mental health?
Undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) can cause anxiety, depression, or mood disorders. You may also suffer from flashbacks, social isolation, and severe anxiety -- symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that stems from terrifying events in your past.1,2,3,4 Discussing your physical and mental health symptoms with your health care provider (doctor, nurse, therapist, etc.) will allow them to help you. Click here to find mental health care.
Sometimes, even just reading about cutting - especially for the first time - can trigger negative feelings that have long been dormant. This is completely normal and can last a long time. Talking to trusted friends and relatives, as well as professional health care providers, is the best way to start feeling better.
Short-term and long-term effects
You may be feeling:
- Isolated, because you feel different than women who have not undergone genital cutting. You hear your friends talking about how much they enjoy sex, and you feel like you're missing out.*
- Frustrated and confused, because you don’t know how female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) affects your health, or how to improve your physical symptoms.7
- Afraid and ashamed when discussing cutting, especially after bad experiences with health care providers.1,8
“I still remember the sound of the scissors. I still remember getting night terrors all the time. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming...it’s really disturbing.” - Survivor
What could happen when realizing that not everyone has been cut?
Women and girls with FGM/C may not even know that their vagina looks different than anyone else’s, or that their cutting is "unusual." The sudden realization that their condition is actually harmful genital cutting – rather than the way all women are – comes as a relief to some and a shock to others. When health care providers react with disgust to seeing FGM/C in a patient, this moment of self-discovery can stir feelings of shame and stigma. Of course, not all women realize they have FGM/C in a clinic. For some, this turning point in their lives comes when listening to a classroom lecture, watching a documentary about FGM/C, or hearing family members tell stories about cutting.*
*George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health original study, 2018-19.
In their own words
A woman describes her feelings of anger, isolation, and betrayal as she reflects on her experience being cut:
Why am I so angry at my family?
A survivor of FGM/C relives her experience being cut when she has a flashback in an examination room: