Refugee mental health: a counsellor’s perspective
Posted Monday 20 June 2011
Guest blog from Aysel Kirmizikan, Senior Bilingual Counsellor at City and Hackney Mind, on her experience of providing practical and emotional support to refugees.
Imagine you are running away from war or ethnic cleansing in your home country. Your life is in danger: finding refuge anywhere in the world would be a relief initially.
Imagine yourself thrown into a country — a country that is foreign to you and to which you are foreign. You have no clue about the culture, landscape and language. You have no friends and family around to talk to and support you.
An asylum seeker will tell you of the relief they feel initially upon their arrival. However, this is not the end of the story, but the start of new challenges to face in an unfamiliar environment.
Refugees and asylum seekers find themselves in need of practical and emotional support in order to settle in a new country. This might be a temporary state but is very intense one. A refugee may be homeless with little or no money. Usually they speak very little English and they are not familiar with the social systems here.
It is important to take a holistic approach when working with refugees. It might not be realistic to offer someone just emotional support while they struggle to adjust themselves into the new society. They have very little control over their life and are too anxious to make a living. They feel stuck in their circumstances.
At City and Hackney Mind we offer culturally appropriate support and counselling to refugees and asylum seekers in their mother tongue as much as we can. What we often see is that they present with very complex issues; including anxiety and depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Newly-arrived refugees have a high rate of uncertainty for their future which can trigger traumatic experiences in their recent or distant past, leading to both short term and enduring mental health problems.
There is a rumour in society that refugees are nothing but takers. This is wrong! Refugees are like everyone else; they have many skills and abilities to bring to society (Albert Einstein was a refugee from Nazi Germany!), but there must be structures of support in place to help them fulfil this potential.
Given appropriate interventions, a refugee's full potential for their future can come to life. It can be challenging and takes time — there are many factors involved, and social, economic and cultural difficulties to overcome — but in each individual case, it is worth every effort.
Aysel Kirmizikan, Senior Bilingual Counsellor at City and Hackney Mind
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