Human trafficking survivors are at higher risk for suicide than the rest of the population. In the Philippines where 10ThousandWindows operates, this alarming trend is also true.

Staff at trafficking-specific shelters in the Philippines have reported that up to one-third of their clients have expressed suicidal ideation. The 10ThousandWindows team in Cebu has also witnessed a growing number of survivors of trafficking disclosing suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts to staff over the past year.

“As the senior technical advisor at 10ThousandWindows, I have witnessed non-mental health staff struggling to support clients in crisis on a near-weekly basis. Building the capacity of our staff in suicide prevention and intervention has been a critical priority in my work. Because of this, we pursued a partnership with Columbia University and the University of Alabama so that our staff can be trained by global experts in suicide prevention,” says Dr. Laura Cordisco Tsai.

Traumatic experiences that survivors face during human trafficking can lead to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-trafficking, survivors often experience community stigmatization, poverty, and family pressure and conflicts. All of these can heighten an individual’s risk for suicide.

In the Philippines, mental health services are rare and stigmatized. There is also an insufficient number of trained mental health professionals and a lack of culturally adapted evidence-based interventions in the country.

To address this urgent need, 10ThousandWindows is partnering with Columbia University’s Global Mental Health Program and the University of Alabama in a groundbreaking new strategy to deliver suicide prevention in the Philippines through non-mental health professionals. 10ThousandWindows staff are being trained by faculty from Columbia and the University of Alabama in the evidence-based suicide prevention intervention, the Suicide Safety Planning Intervention. Throughout the study, a suicide prevention program will be culturally adapted, and local staff capacity will be developed through a pilot program.

Columbia Suicide Intervention Training

Suicide Intervention Study leaders and participants from left to right: Dr. Laura Cordisco Tsai, Janice U., Dr. Milton Wainberg (Columbia University), Dr. Cady Carlson (University of Alabama), Rhea B., Dr. Terriann Nicholson (Columbia University)

As part of the study, 10ThousandWindows’ Philippines Deputy Country Director, Janice U., and Clinical Team Manager, Rhea B., traveled to the US for training with the Columbia team.

“What I appreciate most is the high level of support and encouragement everyone giving us in this project,” said Janice. “We are united in our goal of reaching out and helping each other in order to save lives.”

Rhea said that receiving training by leaders in the field of suicide prevention was important.

“I got to really learn from those who developed the Safety Planning Intervention,” said Rhea. “My training experience was a great learning opportunity and I look forward to integrating what I learned in our programs and processes.”

The study is co-led by Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Fellow and 10ThousandWindows Senior Technical Advisor Dr. Laura Cordisco Tsai, Dr. Milton Wainberg of Columbia University, and Dr. Catherine Carlson of the University of Alabama.

Lessons learned throughout the study and pilot program will be shared with other anti-trafficking organizations in order to improve the entire anti-slavery movement’s response.