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More help is needed for mental health treatment of human trafficking victims

May 25, 2017

Mental health treatment of human trafficking victims

Did you know: May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Mental illness is a serious issue that affects 1 in 25 adults in the United States alone.  However, when it comes to human trafficking victims, they have higher rates of PTSD and depression.

According to a report conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, researchers discovered that out of 133 trafficked people, a percentage of them experienced the following:

  • 34% of adults and 27% of children suffered from depression
  • 39% of adults and 27% of children were diagnosed with PTSD

Other psychological and emotional issues that were not included in the study, can also include:

  • Suicidal behavior
  • Dissociative disorder
  • Anxiety/Paranoia
  • Explosive outbursts
  • Sleep disturbance and nightmares

However, a bigger issue is at large; no treatments have been developed specifically for human trafficking victims. Yes, there are some treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure, talk therapy, drug therapy and more.  However, more research needs to be done to identify and treat patients suffering from the effects of human trafficking.  Even if there are a few trained medical professionals, it may be difficult to treat human trafficking victims. The barriers to entry for patient treatment can include:

  • Lack of access to trained professionals
  • Lack of trust in their healthcare providers
  • Lack of funds/insurance
  • Uncomfortable with therapy methods
  • Doesn’t feel safe

While more treatment methods need to be researched for human trafficking victims, mental health professionals can implement a wide variety of treatment programs they can use for regular mental health patients.  This can include treatments listed above such as; cognitive behavioral therapy, drug therapy, and other effective treatment methods. With these treatment options, human trafficking victims may experience the following benefits:

  • Increased quality of life
  • Increased social activity
  • Decreased emotional and psychological problems
  • Enhanced relationships
  • Improved function at work

While this shows promise, it all starts with human trafficking victims trusting their provider, and mental health professionals being trained to recognize and treat them accordingly.  However, there is some hope.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 <TVPA>, authorize the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to provide eligible benefits to victims of human trafficking.  These benefits may include refugee cash, health services, housing services, and employment services.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is a free resource that provides information about all the benefits human trafficking victims are eligible for.  To find out more about the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 <TVPA> and more benefits eligible to you or a loved one call, 1-888-373-7888.

Other numbers that may be helpful to you are:

National Alliance on Mental Illness:  1-800-950-6264

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255



Photo Credit:  Tim Gouw/