This article was originally posted on The Freedom Story’s website. A link to it can be found here.
It is widely understood that victims of trafficking and abuse would be in need of mental health care services to aid in restitution and rehabilitation. It probably comes with no stretch of the imagination that social workers in the anti-trafficking industry would also need support to handle the emotional toll of the work they do. What may not be obvious, however, is that mental health services are also critical to the prevention of child slavery and exploitation. In this piece, we’d like to share the story of one of our students, Nong Gaht, to emphasize the role proper mental health care can play in expanding freedom and opportunity—and how oppressive the lack of it can be.
Nong Gaht comes from the same village as one of our Freedom Story staff members. At the age of 11 years old, he had been living in the village with his mom, who is illiterate and has mental health issues, and with his drug-addicted stepfather. He began getting into trouble for getting more aggressive and doing inappropriate things, like hitting and inappropriate touching of himself and girls. The behavior was, naturally, unacceptable to the local community, but the causes were not understood. Village elders had a meeting and decided he needed to leave. With the help of Freedom Story staff, his mother took him to a government home and lived with him there. However, the people there were also ill equipped to understand or help manage his behavior. They took him to see a psychologist who had diagnosed him as bipolar and gave him heavy medications (ones typically used to treat seizures, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, bipolar disorder, mania and schizophrenia) essentially to sedate him so he could be better controlled.