When our survivor sisters take the first step in their recovery by leaving their abusers or unhealthy lifestyle behind, the battle is not over. In fact, it has barely begun. At our Grace House Residential Program, we have created a safe space for new survivors to deal with trauma in a healthy way, and though we’ve learned that a safe space is key to further development, there are many steps they must take towards success. When they take each step while dealing with debilitating set backs from their trauma, the road becomes rocky.
It’s no secret that human trafficking survivors face mental health issues, but it may be surprising to some how they affect the women we serve specifically. One of the common mental illnesses that our survivors face is depression. Although we all feel the blues from time to time, a clinical diagnosis of depression goes beyond feeling sad when a depressed patient’s low moods and motivation interferes with their daily life. They may feel helpless, hopeless, unable to focus on basic tasks, and ideate or even attempt suicide, which can make it hard to function at all.
Though trauma from sexual exploitation can be a main contributor to clinical depression, we have found that survivors can have this diagnosis before they are ever trafficked or exploited. We must look at why they enter any abusive lifestyle in the first place. Depression can be caused by many forms of trauma and pain, including poverty, early childhood abuse, struggles to fill their basic needs, loss of loved ones, and lack of a strong support system. All these factors and more can make anyone vulnerable, and when a depressed person already feels a sense of isolation from their community, they become an easy target for abusers.
This common case unfortunately leads to a cycle of depression: A clinically depressed woman without a strong support system who also suffers from financial setbacks can fall victim to exploitation, and the abuse they suffer from exploitation deepens their struggle with depression as they continue to be exploited in order to maintain their needs and a false sense of community and belonging. When these women take the first courageous step by leaving their abuser and unhealthy lifestyle to rebuild their life in our program, they are already long overdue for mental health services and need all the support they can get.
We strongly believe that in order to nurture healthy development, healing must start in the home environment. On top of providing all necessary referrals to mental health services and case management, we have created a safe space at our Grace House Residential Program where the women we serve are surrounded by mentors, healthy support, and do not have to worry about having their basic needs met. As they get all the necessary tools for healing, we have watched our survivor sisters grow from extremely traumatized victims of abuse to strong individuals who can then support each other and work with our team to nurture the safe atmosphere at Grace House. Although our method is effective, it is not always easy for trauma survivors, but when our goal is to restore, rehabilitate, and empower our sisters, we hold healing from depression and other mental illnesses as an important priority.
Please continue to pray for our women battling depression and other mental health diagnoses. We always strive to do our best to nurture a safe and healthy environment for them, and in spite of their struggles, our sisters are doing all they can to rebuild their lives.
written by Amanda Moon Ellevis