Mental Health Resources for Human Trafficking Survivors and Allies

October 13, 2021
| Katherine Chon, Director, Office on Trafficking in Persons
mental health spelled in scrabble letters

On October 10, we recognized World Mental Health Day, an international initiative promoting mental health awareness, education, and treatment. This year, we join this ongoing effort to emphasize the universal importance of recognizing mental health as a crucial component of overall well-being. Greater access to appropriate and effective mental health care can reduce stigma, disparities and inequities in accessing resources.

Unmet mental health needs may increase the risk of human trafficking, and trauma from trafficking victimization contributes to a wide range of adverse mental or behavioral health conditions. Studies show that individuals who have experienced trafficking may exhibit signs of anxiety, emotional numbness, memory loss, and depression. They may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a dependence on substance or alcohol use, and/or eating disorders. The consequences of trafficking can be long-lasting, impacting the individual and interpersonal relationships and potentially resulting in intergenerational cycles of victimization.  

When the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Visit disclaimer page published its inaugural report Visit disclaimer page of recommendations, they stressed the importance of providing holistic and comprehensive services to aid recovery. Survivors on the council recommended parity between psychological and emotional well-being and physical safety and health. Other recommendations from survivors called for services to be more trauma-informed, addressing the unique needs of the affected population. Studies describe how those who have experienced trafficking often find it hard to establish a relationship of trust with their providers due to previous experiences of betrayal and abuse. Trauma-informed mental health care should be person-centered and culturally appropriate, empowering patients with the agency to make choices that work best for their recovery. Access the references below for additional research on the importance of providing individuals who have experienced trafficking with access to trauma-informed, person-centered mental health treatment.

If you are seeking mental health services:

If you want to be more trauma-informed and culturally responsive:

  • The HHS SOAR Online training Visit disclaimer page provides audience- and topic-specific modules for health and human service professionals to identify and respond to human trafficking. Training modules include SOAR for Behavioral Health, SOAR Working with Individuals with Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders, Trauma-Informed Care, Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services, Ethical Considerations, and Working with Individuals with Substance Use and/or Co-Occurring Disorders.
  • The Core Competencies for Human Trafficking Response in Health Care and Behavioral Health Systems Visit disclaimer page pinpoint skill sets that health care and behavioral health practitioners (HCPs) should acquire to identify, respond to, and serve individuals who have experienced trafficking and individuals at risk of trafficking.
  • Toolkit for Building Survivor-Informed Organizations is a collection of new and existing resources that build organizational capacity to collaborate with and support staff, volunteers, and consultants who identify as survivor leaders.
  • Mental Health First Aid Visit disclaimer page is a course that teaches you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training equips participants with the skills needed to reach out and support someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-4357) provides 24/7 free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish. 

Other resources

References

https://www.appi.org/Products/Cultural-Psychiatry/Human-Trafficking Visit disclaimer page

https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/human-trafficking-mental-illness-and-addiction-avoiding-diagnostic-overshadowing/2017-01 Visit disclaimer page

https://journals.lww.com/jaanp/fulltext/2019/12000/understanding_the_mental_health_impact_of_human.6.aspx Visit disclaimer page

https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/private/pdf/76116/index.pdf (PDF) Visit disclaimer page

https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/migrated_legacy_files/42706/ib.pdf (PDF) Visit disclaimer page

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618827/ Visit disclaimer page

https://acf.hhs.gov/opre/report/youth-mental-health-unaccompanied-refugee-minors-program-findings-descriptive-study

https://nhttac.acf.hhs.gov/resources/report-htla-class-1-recommendations-survivor-informed-practices Visit disclaimer page

https://nhttac.acf.hhs.gov/resources/report-htla-class-2-recommendations-services-survivors-substance-use-disorders Visit disclaimer page

https://nhttac.acf.hhs.gov/resource/report-htla-class-5-recommendations Visit disclaimer page

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2013/09/findings-from-the-philadelphia-urban-ace-survey.html Visit disclaimer page

https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(15)00050-1/fulltext Visit disclaimer page

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