The current online world creates an inherently traumatizing developmental environment for young people, due both to its glamorization of sexual objectification, as well as the way users are inundated by online pornography.
It’s clear that current interventions to improve mental health are not adequately addressing the underlying causes of mental illness and suicidality for young people today. In fact, psychological science as a whole has a long history of failing to address the insidious and widespread impacts of trauma, particularly sexual trauma — which so often underlies suicidality and mental illness.
Consider that not too long ago, psychiatric authorities deemed childhood sexual abuse a positive experience. To quote the 1974 edition of the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, “Incestuous activity diminishes the subject’s chance of psychosis and allows for a better adjustment to the outside world.” While incest was deemed acceptable, homosexuality was a diagnosable mental disorder, and women could be considered mentally ill if they “disobeyed” their husbands.
The denial of traumatic sexual experience and its lifelong impact heralds from a much earlier era. In 1896, Sigmund Freud, one of psychology’s best known forefathers, first presented on the sexual abuse of girls, arguing that it was both widespread and the most significant cause of later trauma (then termed hysteria) in women. However, because his paper implied that many men of “good reputation” were in fact perpetrators of abuse, he received significant backlash. On this basis, Freud not only recanted his paper, but replaced it with the theory of the “Oedipus complex” — that is, the notion that girls invent sexual fantasies about their fathers. Freud’s theory hallmarked the beginning of a theme that continues to influence the collective consciousness today: victim-blaming and the discrediting of women’s and children’s reports of abuse.