Coming to America: Mental perils of Afghan refugees

Coming to America: Mental perils of Afghan refugees

Life in the United States has proved to be a constant struggle for Afghan refugees after being awarded Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). The SIV is awarded to people for services rendered to the coalition forces in the war. But when these refugees discover that their credentials do not count in the U.S. and they must start over, these well-qualified people often feel lost.

With many of these people being doctors, engineers and translators in their homelands, starting a new life in an unfamiliar territory in bug-infested apartments with minimum-wage jobs and lack of understanding of U.S. culture is taking a toll on their mental health. They are now dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other health problems.

Sacramento, California has emerged as a prominent destination for Afghan refugees as they continue to arrive in the city. More than 2000 SIV holders with their families have settled in the city since October 2000. Many of these migrants, however, have suffered PTSD from their experiences in Afghanistan and are still battling with symptoms of anxiety and depression in trying to keep up with the perils of adjusting to a new place altogether. Even refugees with no prior mental illnesses may be suffering from Ulysses syndrome, a kind of PTSD that affects a healthy person living in adverse circumstances with little or no help, says Dr. Patrick Marius Koga, a UC Davis Medical Center psychiatrist.

One such case is of Faisal Razmal (28), a former interpreter for the U.S. soldiers battling the Taliban in Afghanistan. In August 2015, Razmal was shot in the face by a neighborhood teenager in front of his apartment in Sacramento. In the attack, Razmal lost sight of one of his eyes and feels like he has lost a piece of his soul. Prior to being shot, Razmal worked as a security guard at a shopping center. However, since the attack, his limited vision and PTSD has compromised his ability to keep a job of a taxi driver or a gas station attendant. The process of resettlement has turned out to be a nightmare for his family. As per his therapist, Homeyra Ghaffari, an Iranian marriage and family therapist, prior to coming to the U.S., Razmal was already afflicted with PTSD and was re-traumatized by the shooting in the U.S.

Refugee care in US

Since 2000, over 600,000 refugees have settled throughout the U.S. and the number is still increasing. So how can the authorities make sure that the people and their families do not suffer from sense of hopelessness and abandonment? Dr. Koga suggests screening them at the county refugee clinic, maintaining their records, and having regular follow ups to check if they have clinical PTSD will help the refugees to get on with their lives in a better manner. However, no such system is in place as yet.

As per Dr. Caroline Giroux, medical director of Adult Psychiatric Support Services, U.S. war veterans get good care for PTSD at VA hospitals. However, Afghan refugees do not qualify for these benefits as the list of refugee resettlement services of the State Department does not include any provision for mental health services.

Recovery roadmap

People come to America thinking it to be a dreamland but their dreams get shattered when they try to find their way around. They feel isolated and have no clear direction. Lack of support systems adds to their emotional trauma. The children of such families find it even harder to adapt to foreign culture and are more vulnerable to poor mental health.

If you know someone who is suffering from any kind of mental illness such as anxiety or depression, it is recommended to seek immediate medical help. The California Mental Health Helpline specialists can help you find the best mental health treatment centers in California. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online with our experts to know about the various mental health facilities in California.