Abortion, whether medical or surgical, affects a woman's body in several ways. Its physical side effects—such as excessive or prolonged bleeding, cramping, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea/vomiting—are well-documented and easily noticeable. They are usually the focus of subsequent interventions. However, the impact of abortion on a woman's mental health deserves equal attention. Mental health-related side effects of abortion are not uncommon. Terminating pregnancy interrupts the hormone cycle. So, there's a high possibility of experiencing post-abortion mental health problems irrespective of whether the abortion was a choice or a compulsion.

Are Abortion And Mental Health Directly Linked?

The American Pregnancy Association reports that regret, grief, shame, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and relationship issues are a few possible negative feelings women may experience after an abortion. The Centre for Reproductive Rights notes that many women feel happy and relieved after an abortion, but some may also experience regret, sadness, or guilt. A longitudinal cohort study conducted from 2008-2010 showed that women who underwent abortion experienced depression levels similar to those denied an abortion. However, several studies also support the counterpoint that abortion does not necessarily lead to or raise the risk of developing mental health issues. Yes, other studies underline the role of pre-existing physical or mental health issues, as well as socio-economic and cultural factors, triggering or worsening emotional, psychological, and/or cognitive problems.

What Are The Symptoms of Mental Health Issues Related to Abortion?

Negative feelings after an abortion include the following:

  • Tearfulness
  • Guilt
  • Regret
  • Questioning the decision
  • Depression
  • Mood changes
  • Numbness
  • Nightmares
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Irritation
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Relationship issues
  • Fear of future pregnancy
  • Substance abuse
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Increased interest in sex to get pregnant again and fill the vacuum
  • Feeling triggered around pregnant women or children
  • Feeling uncertain about motherhood

These symptoms may appear immediately after an abortion or start in the period before it. Durations may range from weeks and months to years.

How To Manage Post-Abortion Mental Health Issues?

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to deal with the emotional impact of abortion—seeking professional help, connecting with a community, and self-care.

  1. Contact a therapist if you experience any of the mental symptoms mentioned above for more than two weeks. It is advisable to track your mood and share the information with your mental health provider. It can help in identifying the problems and causes, prescribing medication, and recommending lifestyle changes toward recovery. In addition to medication, they may teach you techniques ( for example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)) to work through your feelings and manage negative thoughts and behaviors.
  1. Discuss your feelings with your partner, friend, or family member. Or else, join an online or offline community that guides and helps women cope with post-abortion side effects. Write your feelings down if you are not feel comfortable talking about them.
  1. Self-care can be a big impact as well.
    • Be a critical observer of yourself, not critical of yourself. The idea is to learn from the past, not regret the past.
    • Eat well, including foods rich in iron, calcium, vitamins, and proteins in your diet.
    • Try relaxing and meditative exercises like nature walks (ideally with others), yoga classes, gardening, etc.

Abortion is likely to trigger or aggravate mental health issues for many women; you are not alone. Ask for help and take good care of yourself. Remember that your mental health is as important as your physical health.