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The Price of Safety: Mental Health of Refugees

The Price of Safety: Mental Health of Refugees
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    The Price of Safety: Mental Health of Refugees Zahra Al Karradi “Go back to your own country!” is a phrase I thought my fellow immigrant friends must have heard a lot of times in their life, since it was a phrase I would hear on a weekly basis back in the village where I had spent about 11 years of my life. My friends, however, who had spent most of their lives in Utrecht, a large multicultural city in ‘the heart of The Netherlands’, did not seem to relate to me whatsoever. For example, I used to be extremely self-conscious about the clothes I would wear, while my fellow Iraqi friend could just ‘be herself’ and wear whatever she felt like wearing. On top of this, I constantly felt the need to set higher expectations for myself, due to the fear that society would reject me if I did not conform to its standards. It seemed to me as if those ‘standards’ , were completely different  –   almost imperceptible  –   compared to what she was used to. After spending years outside the village, and becoming more adjusted to the city life, I came to a realization. In my old village, people merely tolerated   me, while in Utrecht, people actually accepted me for who I am. This was  because in Utrecht I was not alone. I was no longer the only Iraqi refugee there, and this gave me a much needed sense of belonging. In other words, I came to understand the root cause that made me feel so out of place in that village: low ethnic density. As human beings, it is only natural to want to belong somewhere. Fortunately for me, I had finally achieved this feeling of belonging, while still enjoying my youth. The insecurities that I had developed over time, had decreased significantly. For many refugees, however, this longing is only but a dream. The constant fear of being all on your own and being often misunderstood, can lead to a feeling of alienation. This, in combination with constantly having flashbacks of all the traumatic memories running through your mind, to the point where you can’t even think straight anymore,  can slowly, but surely develop into serious mental health impairments , like schizophrenia. (1) And one should not be surprised with such findings. In fact, developing psychological disorders due to similar circumstances are quite common with refugees, because having to adapt oneself    to a new social, cultural and geographic environment takes a toll on the already mentally damaged refugees. And since the human mind can only take so much, seeing increased rates of mental health disorders within this population comes as no surprise. This is especially the case for the youth, who have yet to develop themselves emotionally. (1,2) Imagine for an instance, how it must feel to be forcibly kicked out of your home country, where you had built up a life with your family and friends, only to move to a foreign nation whom you are left alone, far away from anyone who understands or wants to understand your customs, language, and pains. Words cannot fully describe the forsakenness, helplessness, and feeling of utter abandonment that many refugees must go through. And because nothing in life is free, the price of living in a country that is more secure seems to be payed off with an equal feeling of loneliness. But is this feeling always bound to happen? Is it an inevitable  pathway that many refugees are destined to take; a fate they cannot escape? Or are we, as (aspiring) medical health professionals able to speak up for, and advocate for those whose voice cannot be easily expressed?   Doctors always want to achieve one thing: cure the disease. But this goal is only successfully achieved when it is coupled with a passion to end human suffering. Moreover, doctors also  know that prevention is always better than cure. So it is our responsibility to help prevent mental illness, especially in younger refugees. One way to achieve this, is by limiting the scattering of these helpless people. (1,2) Doctors tend to focus on their patient as a single  person. However, in preventing this massive problem, it is of utmost importance to think about the members of a certain community as a whole; in this context we have to redefine our concept of “patient” from a single person, to a  population of people. Only then are we able to successfully eradicate this growing epidemic. References: (1) Bhugra D, Jones P. Migration and mental illness.   Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. May 2001;7(3):216-222. (2) Brough M, Gorman D, Ramirez E, Westoby P. Young Refugees Talk about Well-being: A Qualitative Analysis of Refugee Youth Mental Health from Three States. The Australian Journal of Social Issues. May 2003;38(2):193-208.

cv 2020

Sep 22, 2019
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