Poor Mental Health and Vulnerability to Exploitation

Depending on the local context, certain groups in society may be particularly susceptible to experiencing mental health problems, including households living in poverty, people with chronic health conditions, minority groups, and persons exposed to and/or displaced by war or conflict (World Health Organization, 2012)

People with a mental health challenges have their own set of vulnerabilities and risks, including an increased likelihood of experiencing disability and premature mortality, stigma and discrimination, social exclusion and impoverishment, and exploitation.

Poor mental health can affect people’s daily life, relationships, social life, employment and finances, making life more challenging and stressful. These impacts may lead to wider issues such as substance misuseisolation, and poor physical health and homelessness. These factors can increase vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.

People experiencing challenges with mental health may seek, or become dependent on, others who can offer them emotional or practical support. The individual from whom they seek support may use this relationship of trust and dependency to abuse or exploit the individual. They may make their offer of support dependent on the person participating in an exploitative situation, or they may act in a coercive, controlling and violent way. They prey upon the mental unhealthiness and need that is present to practice exploitation.

Mental health challenges can affect people’s ability to tell others that they are being abused or exploited. The nature of their mental health challenges may make it difficult for them to seek help and support from friends, family and support services. During circumstances when their mental health challenges are particularly severe they may not fully recognize that they are being abused or exploited.

Mental health difficulties may arise from experience of past trauma, abuse or exploitation and the lasting impacts of these experiences on people’s lives can increase their vulnerability to further exploitation.

Factors that contribute to the mental health challenges that can make an individual more vulnerable to exploitation are: low self – esteem, cognitive and emotional immaturity, difficulties in communicating, neglect or family dysfunction/ lack of positive support system, low income or poverty, and social and/or gender inequalities.

On the positive side, there are protective factors that can support resilience and resistance to exploitation that can be developed through coping skills training and trauma – informed psychoeducation. This can help to guide individuals to mental healthiness and raise self-esteem, which provides individuals with the ability to solve problems or seek help from those who can help them to solve problems; learn positive ways to manager stress and adversity; increase communication skills, create an environment of social equity, and develop skills for self – care and protection.

World Health Organization. (2012). Retrieved from www.who.int/risk-to-mental-health.

Robin Harris, Mental Health & Inclusion Manager

Action Pathways Head Start

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