Today is World Mental Health Day! Let’s talk about some ways that mental health affects survivors of trafficking.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This may be the most obvious one. PTSD is common in people who have suffered abuse and sexual assault. According tothis useful 2010 report by the HHS, more than 50% of trafficked women they studied reported the following symptoms and rated them “severe”:
Remember, Courtney’s House doesn't use the word “rescue” because you can rescue a body, but you have to transition a mind. Getting out of the physical situation is a step, but there are lots more after that before building a healthy, full life.
(For more about the word "rescue" and how it affects the anti-trafficking movement, read this great article.)
Eating disorders have a variety of causes. The list on the website for theNational Eating Disorders Association includes low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, anger, stress, troubled personal relationships, difficulty expressing emotions or feelings, and history of physical or sexual abuse. Survivors of trafficking often experience many or most of those.
Additionally, traffickers often withhold food as a control mechanism. Many survivors of trafficking see food as something they can’t have unless they've obeyed, or something they need to hoard in case they can’t get more later.
Many of the survivors we serve have some kind of eating disorder, or at least an unhealthy relationship with food. This is why Courtney’s House always keeps food available at the center. It not only helps our clients to eat, but gives them the security of knowing they can eat whenever they want.
Developmental Changes, Delays, Disorders
Trauma has a major impact on brain development, particularly in the formative years of childhood and adolescence. Most children who are trafficked enter the life before the age of 14, many under the age of 10. Traumatic experiences may alter the way their brains work, change hormone production, delay emotional development, etc. Childhood trauma can change the way a person perceives and experiences the world, even as they grow to adulthood.
Let us also remember that traffickers often rely on trust and coercive methods, rather than kidnapping and outright force. It’s much easier to control teenagers when you get them to care about you. Traffickers know that, and they use it to their advantage.
Mental Health is Important
Those are just some of the common ways that mental health issues affect survivors of trafficking. Let’s all remember that survivors don’t just need to be rescued. Courtney’s House works to help survivors get the care they need, from physical health to mental health, from basic needs to fun and games, from personal safety to fulfilling lives.
Thanks for taking the time to learn about trafficking and mental health, and Happy World Mental Health Day!
Director of Operations