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There is Help for Refugees Struggling with Stress


Friday, February 1, 2008
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Mary works as a nursing assistant at the local nursing home. She arrived at work one day feeling somewhat tired, but unable to work. Halfway through the day, she developed a headache and then received a phone call from the middle school. Her son had been in a fight and was being suspended for several days. Mary felt sad, overwhelmed, angry and guilty as she left work that day.

She drove to the school thinking about her son’s problems with fighting. She thought about all they had been through during the civil war in her country. His father died. She lost many family members. She did her best to protect her son during their time in a refugee camp, but she knew that he saw a lot of awful things. While they are now safe, her son still wakes up screaming. Mary feels so alone with her problems. She feels afraid and doesn’t know where to turn for help. 

The problems that Mary struggles with are common experiences of refugees now living in this country. They often have bad dreams or difficulty sleeping, weight changes, feelings of sadness, anger and hopelessness. They might be forgetful or have trouble paying attention. Headaches and stomach aches and feeling disconnected and lonely are common. When parents struggle with these problems, it makes helping children who also suffer even more difficult. Children may be affected by their parents’ struggles or unavailability and have trouble in school or developing healthy relationships. 

Fortunately, there is help for people who struggle with bad memories of war and violence. Many of these problems improve with time, but there are people who can help. You can talk with your doctor, trusted community or religious leaders, and teachers. It might be hard or frightening to talk about the past. But don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. It can be the first step in healing from war trauma or a traumatic refugee experience.

Parents of children who are having trouble can talk with school staff. When teachers, principals and social workers understand a child’s history, they can help the child be more successful in school.

In the United States, medical and social service professionals are trained to work with people who are overwhelmed by their feelings. They understand that seeing or experiencing violence or trauma can affect a person for many years. These professionals can help refugees manage their emotions, address their problems and begin to live healthier lives.

If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed by feelings or is behaving in ways that concern you or others, keep these things in mind:

•    No one deserves any bad things that happened to them, particularly in refugee camps or civil unrest.
•    Sometimes the body has pain because of strong feelings like anger, sadness or guilt.
•    Feeling overwhelmed, angry, frightened or very sad is normal after experiencing traumatic situations. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help.
•    Social workers, medical professionals and spiritual leaders are trained to listen to people and help with their problems.
•    Children might not understand their feelings and act in unacceptable ways.
•    Asking for help is the best thing someone can do to feel better, live healthier and be happier.

The Center for Victims of Torture is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities and to stop torture worldwide. For information or referral, call 612-436-4800.

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