Mental Health and Human Trafficking

Mental health isn’t talked about enough. It isn’t prioritized enough. Most don’t even fully understand what mental health is.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.” [1] If mental health is not recognized as a crucial part of our health then we leave room for a lot of vulnerabilities to begin rooting. These vulnerabilities could increase one’s susceptibility to human trafficking. 

1 in 5 teens suffers from a mental health disorder [2]. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts have already been astronomically high in the past years with the increase of screen time and fewer face-to-face interactions. Youth, especially girls, have a lot of weight on their shoulders due to social media. Whether it’s comparison, jealousy, seeking acknowledgment and affirmation, or hateful comments, teenagers have more factors that play into vulnerabilities than ever. With the recent Pandemic, mental health disorders have drastically increased due to isolation and lack of human interaction. 

Those who already were vulnerable before the pandemic are detrimentally more vulnerable with this recent elevated mental health crisis. Those who live in low-income families, have disabilities, are black, LGBTQ+, homeless, or foster youth are all among the most to be affected. 

Pre-existing mental health issues can reduce decision-making capability or understanding. It may increase dependency, validation from others and the urge to over-share to anyone who is willing to listen. It can decrease logical decision-making and the ability to sense dangerous situations. These are what traffickers can sense from miles away and decide on their next victim. 

The Surgeon General Youth Mental Health Advisory released a document this December addressing the mental health crisis among our youth in the United States and how we can address these heartbreaking statistics. 

  • Suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 have increased by 57% from 2007-2018, not including the effects of the pandemic. 
  • 1 in 5 children in the United States ages 3 to 17 has a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder according to the Surgeon General Youth Mental Health Advisory [3].

Not only do pre-existing mental health behaviors increase vulnerabilities to human trafficking, but many survivors of human trafficking are left with extreme mental health challenges. Research from various countries shows that depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, and attempted suicide are common among survivors [4]. Around 78% of women experience one of these behaviors and 40% of men do [5].

At the Set Free Movement, mental health is extremely important to our work. It’s important to address the root causes of trafficking. Mental health is one of them. Whether to improve resiliency to human trafficking in youth or aid a survivor to holistic recovery, it is our desire to walk alongside their journey to protect, educate, and advocate.

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Here’s are three things we can do according to the Mental Health Advisory: 

  • Recognizing and empowering youth and families to acknowledge mental health is essential and how to recognize and manage emotions. 
  • Support high-quality and affordable mental health care among children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. 
  • Address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.

Read the Surgeon General Youth Mental Health Advisory in-depth study of the mental health crisis in our youth and the ways we can take action here

Because God has given those who put faith in Him His Spirit, we know we have hope and a defense against the battle within the mind. Let us be awake and aware of the new vulnerabilities around us. May we be bold to speak up when we feel ourselves getting dragged under. May we trust in the Lord to be our shield. May we set appropriate boundaries for ourselves and our children to protect our hearts and minds. 

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Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and application, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Pray with us: 

Dear Lord, open our eyes to see the importance of mental health in an age of loneliness, isolation, and technology. Help us to spark conversations and address this mental health crisis among our youth in our families, churches, workplaces, and communities. Amen.



[1] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 17 December 2021. 

[2] Polaris Teen Center. Accessed 20 December 2021.

[3] US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 19 December 2021.

[4] Ottisova L, Hemmings S, Howard LM, Zimmerman C, Oram S

Epidemiol Psychiatr Sci. 2016 Aug;

[5]  Oram S, Abas M, Bick D, Boyle A, French R, Jakobowitz S, Khondoker M, Stanley N, Trevillion K, Howard L, Zimmerman C Am J Public Health. 2016 Jun; 106(6):1073-8.

Author: Victoria Fisher

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