Listen to my thoughts – by Mahdia Hossaini, Afghan refugee, journalist, writer and interpreter living in Athens, Greece

“We all have to face difficulties at some point in our lives. In these situations we normally turn to family and friends and the help we can usually offer to someone whose mental health has been compromised, is to persuade them to speak to a psychotherapist.

Whenever someone hears the word “refugee” the first things that come to mind are war and terror, but there are also other aspects that need to be considered, such as the refugees’ wellbeing and mental health problems, anxiety, suicide, PTSD, lack of self-confidence, depression and also the mental deterioration of rape and torture victims.

These are some of the burdens we refugees carry on our shoulders. Many people believe that all refugees suffer from mental health issues and therefore pose a danger to society.  But this is an unfair viewpoint and it only applies to a very small number of refugees. In fact, we should try to prevent people from thinking this way by educating them further and moreover, by setting up a support system for refugees with mental health problems and their families. Indeed, refugees often suffer from mental health problems, due to the fact that the majority of them come from countries that have faced years of war and violence, so naturally their mental health is damaged.

Have we given any thought on how we can actually help those refugees with mental health problems and their supporting families? Or, like many other people, do we believe that a psychoanalyst is the only person qualified to help those in need? There is more that can be done and should be done. I believe that all people can help one another, regardless of the situation or environment in which they find themselves. I am someone who believes that a single smile can change the life and destiny of another person. I don’t think this happens only in fairy tales.

I reckon that, what a refugee with mental health problems, and who is seeing a psychiatrist, needs above all else is a dedicated support system for themselves, a training programme for their caring families and last but not least, a responsible interpreter, as someone who can be the voice of the refugee in order to communicate his pain and suffering to a psychotherapist.  The latter could be considered as the first step towards a better understanding of how the refugee feels.

The psychological problems of a European citizen and a refugee may come from a very different place due to the much diverse backgrounds of each.  By creating a separate branch of specialist training that is geared towards helping psychoanalysts understand the refugee patient and their families better could be another solution to reducing the cultural chasm between them.  I think the training should include lessons in culture, education, beliefs and traditions of refugees in different countries.

In order for refugees to become fully integrated into society, they need to be accepted and we must give them all the support we can. We have to realise that refugees don’t need pity or compassion. Pity and compassion as forms of aid is not the solution to the problem. What people need is to be listened to, understood and acknowledged. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of time, the right words and the right form of aid to solve a problem. Other times, we can show our respect for the mental and psychological state of our fellow humans by simply being there for them and gently supporting them through their journey of recovery.”

Source: EUFEMI