In the latest newsletter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, its leaders highlight mental health this month, as part of Mental Health Awareness Month all through May. Here is an excerpt from their alert about the connection between mental health issues and vulnerability to human trafficking:

Mental health issues can significantly increase an individual’s susceptibility to victimization of trafficking, creating vulnerabilities that the trafficker will exploit for their own gain. Key factors can include a history of trauma, which can impair a person’s ability to assess risk, recognize exploitation, and resist manipulation. Trauma survivors may struggle with issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making them more susceptible to traffickers who promise validation, love, or a sense of belonging.


Additionally, mental illness can further compound vulnerabilities. They can affect judgment, decision-making, and the ability to maintain stable employment or relationships. Individuals grappling with mental health conditions may experience social isolation, financial instability, and a lack of support networks, all of which traffickers exploit to exert control. Furthermore, the stigma surrounding mental illness may deter survivors from seeking help or disclosing their experiences, leaving them even more vulnerable to exploitation.


Moreover, traffickers often target marginalized individuals who lack resources or social support, knowing that they are less likely to receive assistance or be believed if they attempt to escape. In this way mental health issues intersect with various risk factors for trafficking, creating a vicious cycle of vulnerability and exploitation. By understanding and addressing the intersection of mental health and trafficking we can better protect vulnerable individuals and promote their well-being.