A Mental Health Professional’s Perspective on Human Trafficking by Cadence Brown

Edited by Alexandra Chu


People who have been trafficked are susceptible to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health professionals need to fight against human trafficking and provide care to those individuals. Mental health professionals may come into contact with trafficked people who are currently being exploited or have escaped. Psychiatrists have a responsibility to the care of vulnerable and victimized patients, and they should have a comprehensive knowledge of the physical and mental health consequences of human trafficking. It is vital that they can identify trafficked people so they may assist individuals in getting out of their situations, prevent them from being re-trafficked, and connect them to the right medical, psychiatric, social, and legal services (Human Trafficking and Psychiatric Education: A Call to Action).


Mental health professionals must realize the trauma that trafficked individuals have experienced. The treatment they receive needs to recognize that trauma and the concerns related to it. Trauma-informed care should accommodate the vulnerability of the person and should foster the necessity of long-term, comprehensive, and culturally competent care (Human Trafficking and Psychiatric Education: A Call to Action).


If a mental health professional suspects trafficking, they should try to see the individual without his or her usual companion, use an independent interpreter if needed, and prepare to provide extended consultation. They may also attempt to schedule an appointment at a later date to have a better chance at getting disclosure. Trafficked people may fear disclosing their situation because of threats of harm to themselves or their family, risk of deportation or detention, or feelings of shame or guilt. Some individuals may also have difficulty recalling their experiences due to trauma. When this happens, mental health care professionals need to be prepared to handle crisis care with little background on the situation. They also have to recognize that the trafficked person may not be able to come back for follow-up care. Mental health professionals should be ready to give information on referral options and know local and national support services and referral pathways (Mental Health and Human Trafficking: Responding to Survivors’ Needs).


When possible, the trafficked patient should get a choice in the gender of their care professional and their interpreter. People who have been trafficked may not know how mental health care services are provided and what options they may have for treatment. Careful attention should be given to explaining care plans, the coordination and duration of treatment, and confirming informed consent. Whenever possible, the professional should include the individual in the decision-making for their plan. The mental health professional will need to do risk assessments and safety planning for the patient. This will include the risk of being re-trafficked. When they are assessing, they should search for common post-trafficking reactions such as fearfulness, sadness, guilt, shame, anger, and memory loss (Mental Health and Human Trafficking: Responding to Survivors’ Needs).


Further research still needs to be done on the effectiveness of interventions for trafficked individuals. There is also a need for formal published curricula on human trafficking across heath care provider groups (Human Trafficking and Psychiatric Education: A Call to Action). In a world plagued by human trafficking, mental health professionals are more vital than ever; therefore, we as a society must continue to emphasize their importance and support trafficking victims throughout their counseling journey.


Works Cited

Altun, Sukran, et al. “Mental Health and Human Trafficking: Responding to Survivors' Needs.” BJPsych International, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1 Feb. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618827/.

Coverdale, J., Beresin, E.V., Louie, A.K. et al. Human Trafficking and Psychiatric Education: A Call to Action. Acad Psychiatry 40, 119–123 (2016). link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40596-015-0462-2.

Oram S., Khondoker M., Abas M., et al. “Characteristics of Trafficked Adults and Children with Severe Mental Illness: a Historical Cohort Study.” The Lancet Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26489912/.

Ottisova L., Smith P., Shetty H., et al. “Psychological Consequences of Child Trafficking: An Historical Cohort Study of Trafficked Children in Contact with Secondary Mental Health Services.” PloS One, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Mar. 2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29518168/.






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