Trapped and Powerless

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Austerity has removed many choices from people’s lives who are struggling or living with low incomes. The cuts to legal aid have meant that many people are without legal or help in crucial areas such as housing, family, debt and benefits[i]. The tripling of tuition fees for university also lead to a 47% drop in part time students[ii]. Part time students are more likely to be mature[iii], and so often already have responsibilities, such as children. The debt burden of university education has therefore had the effect of trapping people who do not take the traditional path straight from school to university.

The costs to mental health

Entrapment has serious short and long term impacts. Feeling trapped is a key cause of depression and anxiety[iv]. Long term entrapping life experiences nearly treble the chances of anxiety and depression[v]. Central to feeling trapped is a loss of hope in the possibility of being able to change life for the better. Feeling powerless is also a key component of many psychotic experiences, such as paranoia[vi]. Mental health problems are responses to difficult life circumstances, so trapping people into situations of trauma, abuse and neglect can create life long problems.

Case study: Domestic violence

Funding for domestic violence shelters has plummeted. Last year, nearly a third of referrals to refuges were turned away due to a lack of space; on just one day, 112 women and 84 children were refused accommodation[vii]. This literally traps women and children into violent and abusive situations. Beside the risks to women and children this poses in the present, the links between childhood adversity and adult mental health are well known. People are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with both depression[viii] and psychosis[ix] in adulthood if they have experiences of being abused or neglected in childhood. Experiencing or witnessing abuse as a child increases the risk of attempting suicide as an adult by nearly 70% and of being prescribed medication for mental health issues by three times[x]. There is some evidence that long term changes in biological stress systems, brain structure and chemistry can be attributed to witnessing or experiencing abuse in childhood[xi]. All of these links have a ‘dose response’, meaning adult impacts are more severe the more long term and repeated the experiences are in childhood[xii]. This is a long term mental health disaster.


[ii] Universities UK. (2014). Trends in undergraduate recruiting. London: Universities UK.

[iii] Universities UK. (2014). Trends in undergraduate recruiting. London: Universities UK.

[iv] Brown, G. W., Harris, T. O., Hepworth, C. (1995). Loss, humiliation and entrapment among women developing depression: a patient and non-patient comparison, Psychological Medicine, 25, 1, 7-21.

[v] Kendler, K., S., Hettema, J. M., Butera, F., Gardner, C. O., Prescott, C., A. (2003). Life Event Dimensions of Loss, Humiliation, Entrapment, and Danger in the Prediction of Onsets of Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety, Archives General Psychiatry.

[vi]Cromby, J., Harper, D. (2009). Paranoia: A social account, Theory and Psychology, 19, 3, 335–361.

[vii] Women’s Aid. (2015). Women’s Aid National Survey 2014. London: Women’s Aid.

[viii] Chapman, D.P., Whitfield, C.L., Felitti, V.J., Dube, S.R., Edwards, V.J., Anda, R.F. (2004). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of depressive disorders in adulthood, Journal of Affective Disorders., 82, 2, 217-25.

[ix] Varese, et al. (2012). Childhood Adversities Increase the Risk of Psychosis: A Meta-analysis of Patient-Control, Prospective- and Cross-sectional Cohort Studies, Schizophrenia Bulletin, 38 (4): 661-671.

[x] Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Felitti, V.J., Chapman, D.P., Williamson, D.F., Giles, W.H. (2001). Childhood abuse, household dysfunction, and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the life span: findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, JAMA. 286, 24, 3089-96.

[xi] Anda, R.F., Brown, D.W., Felitti, V.J., Bremner, J.D., Dube, S.R., Giles, W.H. (2007). Adverse childhood experiences and prescribed psychotropic medications in adults, American Journal of Preventive Medicine., 32, 5, 389-94.

[xii] Anda et al. (2011). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: A convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 256(3), 174–186.


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