• childhood sexual abuse;
  • mental health;
  • PTSD;
  • shame;
  • self-help group;
  • public health

One of the aims of the study was to investigate how participants in self-help groups (SHG) for women (n = 87) who had been sexually abused in childhood rated their mental health and to what extent they were at risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A further aim was to investigate the relationship between the ratings of mental health, occurrence of PTSD, women's interpersonal relationships, reasons for participating in an SHG and characteristics of the childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The participants completed questionnaires regarding their personal relationships, reasons for joining a group, abuse characteristics, mental health (Symptom Checklist-90-Revised) and PTSD (Impact of Event Scale-Revised). The women showed poor mental health, and more than half of them were at risk of developing PTSD. Lack of social support and feelings of shame correlated with poor mental health, whereas guilt did not. Relationships with female friends had a positive association. Further research is needed to determine whether participating in an SHG could provide adequate social support and reduce feelings of shame, thereby contributing to the healing process in the aftermath of CSA.

Key Practitioner Message: • Child abuse is a significant component of the global burden of disease; • Both social workers and public health care providers meet sexually abused girls and it is important that they have knowledge about the subject; • An important clinical implication for adequate treatment would be to assess and recognise childhood sexual abuse and to link diagnosis to trauma.