Why are Mental Health Services Important for Survivors of Complex Trauma

Trigger warning: sexual abuse, enslavement, complex trauma.

Mental health services are vitally important for many people to achieve better mental health and emotional wellbeing. Although this area once carried a great deal of stigma, people from all walks of life are now discovering the benefits of therapy and other mental health services.

These services are especially critical for survivors of complex trauma. In these cases, the right mental health treatments can make all the difference for survivors to have the restorative life skills to move forward to lead healthy, happy lives.

What is complex trauma?

Complex trauma, sometimes also called complex PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), is caused by repeated trauma or a sequence of traumatic events over a length of time. This could include, but is not limited to, imprisonment, enslavement, and consistent mental, physical, or sexual abuse. Because of the on-going nature of the events that caused the trauma in the first place, survivors experience a particular, complex, and severe type of trauma.

Studies have found that survivors of human trafficking and enslavement experience complex trauma that has significant and long-term impacts on their mental health. One study of sex and labor trafficking survivors (including some trafficked into or within the US) found that 71% suffered from depression and 66% displayed symptoms of complex PTSD. These rates were even higher for survivors who identified as transgender.

What happens to survivors of complex trauma?

People who suffer from complex trauma may re-experience or relive their traumatic experiences. They may also be constantly on edge or alert, struggle with emotional regulation, and may avoid certain situations or activities because they remind them of the trauma. They may suffer from delusions or dissociation, loss of faith, problematic self-identification, and find it difficult to trust others.

If this is left untreated, over time survivors will experience worsening impacts on their mental health, that will, in turn, most likely affect every aspect of their life. Sufferers of complex trauma can experience significant depression, anxiety or anger, and this can adversely impact on their relationships, personal life and career. Mental health services foster emotional wellbeing and empower survivors of complex trauma to move forward with their lives.

Treating complex trauma

Complex trauma often needs treatment over a longer period compared to less-complex trauma, and this treatment may last for decades. On-going treatment and support is needed to empower survivors with critical life-readiness skills needed to rebuild their lives.

Treating complex trauma requires a specific approach, one that is different to treating trauma related to a single incident. Single incident trauma can be severe, but the impacts of complex trauma are even more extensive and debilitating. Although some approaches used to treat single-issue PTSD may also be useful for complex trauma, different and more in-depth treatments are usually needed.

It is also important to remember that every individual is different, and therefore the most appropriate treatment for complex trauma will vary from person to person. This makes it critical to consider a range of diverse treatment options, such as telemental health services and animal therapy.

Getting help

We know that survivors often face obstacles to receiving the mental health services they need, so we work to eliminate these obstacles and empower survivors to rebuild their lives.

If you or someone you know needs help recovering from complex trauma, you can learn more about our telemental health program here or reach out to us at [email protected]

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