Thursday, December 01, 2011

Local refugees

Everyday millions of individuals face horrific human rights violations. It is estimated that roughly 1% of the world’s population have been displaced from their home country. Refugees are people who flee their country in order to escape conflict. A refugee is defined as a person whom “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country,” (UNHCR).
Refugees face various physical and mental hardships before, during, and/or after their flight. Experiencing or witnessing the traumatic events prior to their arrival to the United States is a major risk factor for chronic mental health problems. Killings, material losses, torture and sexual violence are common traumatic experiences refugees face. Once in overcrowded camps, refugees face depravation, uncertainty, and disruption of community and social support networks. Psychiatric morbidity and psychosocial dysfunction observed within the refugee population often dependent on the nature and time span of the conflict and trauma. (WHO, Mental Health of Refugees). Because of the severity of the trauma, physicians across the United States believe that refugees are at high risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. However, little aid is given for Lancaster county refugees for their mental health care needs.Resources and funding are both limited.
Cultural beliefs and stigmas shape the way individuals perceive and overcome traumatic experiences. Physicians should care refugee patients in Lancaster country with culturesensitive approach especially when dealing with mental health care. The distribution of country of origin for refugees varies significantly from year to year. As a result, mental health care workers must be educated and trained regularly about the different cultures they are treating. Traditional treatment for PTSD and depression may not be helpful for certain cultures. In addition, cultural stigmas and norms must be considered in order to effectively communicate and respect the patients. Lancaster County is full of refugees who are at times in dire need of a culture specific approach to care. 

Clearly there is a need – and individually organizations are unable to meet it. Together as a community – we can make Lancaster a place for refugees to seek safe haven and be given the opportunities to become healthy and active citizens of the city.

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