Afghan refugees in North Carolina need mental health support

By Mona Dougani

Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh are starting to see Afghan refugees, who were displaced from their home countries in August, resettle in North Carolina.

Upon their arrival, other Afghan residents already in that state are learning from some of the mental health challenges that often accompany refugees fleeing unrest and who are suddenly plunged into a new life in a foreign location.

Since the Taliban toppled the Afghan government on August 15 and US troops withdrew from the country 15 days later, many people who have lived in the country and fled for safety reasons have been scattered around the world.

But a larger exodus from Afghanistan has been underway for two decades now.

Over the years, around 6 million Afghans have been forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Of these 6 million, approximately 3.5 million still live in Afghanistan, while 2.6 million are refugees living in the world.

North Carolina expects about 1,169 refugees in this most recent wave.

A new way of life

Amina, an Afghan refugee who arrived in the Triangle almost a year ago, said that although the journey was difficult with the language barrier, she felt she had support.

“I got help finding a job, English lessons, a school for my kids, and my husband was able to find mental health services,” she told NC Health News in a report. interview in Farsi.

Images of war and violence haunted her husband. He left Afghanistan with his family still there.

Although Amina also left her family behind, she was overwhelmed by the support she found in Raleigh.

The United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit organization that opened an office in North Carolina in 2007 to assist refugees in their transition to life in that country, has been helpful.

Amina has also found support and work at Designed for Joy, a Raleigh nonprofit that hires and helps women from vulnerable situations. At their new store near the city’s warehouse district, the organization also sells earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other gifts as the women assemble handbags and more in an adjoining room. at the store.

On Monday through Thursday evenings, when Amina isn’t working hard making handbags, she takes English lessons. She does all of this while looking after her four children, ranging in age from toddler to teenage years. But memories of war are still a stressor that is still lurking in the background.

The ongoing war and violence in Afghanistan over the past two decades have had serious consequences for the mental health of Afghan residents and refugees in that country and elsewhere.

Two larger handbags that Amina designed at the Designed for Joy headquarters in Raleigh. Photo credit: Mona Dougani

PTSD, anxiety and depression

According to a 2019 article published by Human Rights Watch, approximately half of the Afghan population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression.

Khadija Bahari, an Afghan woman from the Hazara ethnic group who moved to that country in 2005 and now lives in Virginia, speaks often about the quest for equality for women in Afghanistan. In a recent telephone interview, Bahari said it was difficult to watch and read the news about the Taliban takeover of the government.

“I feel bad,” Bahari said. “I feel very painful. I can’t describe when the Taliban was advancing, taking over, I was very scared and shocked.

“Nothing is good,” she added. “Every day there is bad news, not bad news, lots of bad news.”

Although the news has been disheartening for Bahari and other Afghans, Bahari is focused on what is working for her.

“I mean, I have a great life,” Bahari said in August.I have a husband that I love, I love my job, I love my family, I have good friends and support. The best thing I can do is read the news less and not read the news.

“For someone like me, who has participated in social activities in Afghanistan, it is difficult not to live this critical moment, not to watch the news and to see what is happening,” Bahari added.

Some people do not seek professional help to alleviate their anxiety and mental stress. Bahari, who understands some of the challenges and disparities her ethnic group faces in Afghanistan, has found support among other Hazara women. In recent months, they have come together and lamented that the Hazara Afghans do not appear to be able to leave the country as easily as some of the other ethnic groups.

A full-fledged support group

Although Bahari has her own support system, she wonders if the latest arrivals from Afghanistan will have sufficient resources.

“I don’t think there are a lot of sources,” Bahari said. “A lot of people, maybe 90 percent of these people don’t speak English. They come from rural Afghanistan with these mindsets, and it’s shocking, even the good things in America are shocking to them. They have to adapt to a new culture.

“So I don’t think there are enough sources, in my opinion there are, but very limited because all of these people need interpreters to translate for them,” Bahari added.

Adam Clarke, director of World Relief Durham, a refugee resettlement agency that helps with school enrollment, housing, job search and more, said the language barrier can sometimes make it difficult access of new refugees to mental health services.

“What we see on the news, what Afghans are going through, is unfortunately very common for all refugees from all nations who send refugees from the United States,” Clarke said.

“For decades, they had very little access to mental health services. Current Afghan evacuees will face the same obstacles as all refugees in the United States, primarily in terms of access to the language, but also having sufficient health insurance. In general, this is only a marginalized population that does not have as much access as others to mental health supports.

Creation of partnerships

In an effort to help refugees with mental health services, since 2015, World Relief Durham has partnered with the UNC School of Social Work in its Refugee Wellness and Mental Health initiative.

“By partnering with a university and mental health industry professionals, we are leveraging trauma-based counseling and trauma-informed services training for our entire team,” said Clarke. “We are able to provide services that are not available to most resettled refugees through this partnership and our work with them.

In addition to the partnership with the UNC School of Social Work, World Relief Durham also has a community engagement team to help support refugee mental health. The group focuses on training cultural skills for volunteers to form positive friendships with refugees and immigrants to address the social isolation refugees face.

Although the Triangle ranks among the largest areas in the country hosting refugees, the people of Charlotte also aim to help refugees.

After Amarra Ghani organized a Friendsgiving meeting in 2017, she wanted to do something for refugees from Syria. Her small act of service turned into a non-profit organization called Welcome Home Charlotte to serve new refugees in Charlotte.

Ghani works full time at Bank of America as a product owner, but says Welcome Home is his “24/7” job.

Main Welcome Home programs include an English language program, a food bank where volunteers can donate food, and a date program where volunteers take families to appointments.

“I never intended, and I don’t think any board member really intended, for him to achieve what he achieved,” Ghani said.

“We are very grateful and overwhelmed with the support so now we know there is a community behind us which is great because it means we can fall back and we can have a community that will support us.”

Welcome Home also saw the need for access to mental health.

“Right now, we are also working to connect our refugee families to these mental health services,” Ghani said.

“There is nothing completely set in stone, but if there are people out there who are licensed therapists or psychiatrists or who are in this area of ​​mental health, we would love to hear them. We I would love to team up with them because we definitely have a shortage in this section for sure.

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