New Hamilton program to link immigrant communities with health professionals
By Julia Chapman
Habiba Ibrahim got a call at 3 a.m. one morning.
The woman on the other line, a fellow Somali, was having nightmares and didn’t know what else to do.
“She said before she left [Somalia], a bomb landed in her house and killed her husband,” Ibrahim said. “Her son, who is about 20 now, said to her that day, ‘ how did my father die?’ And she explained and that night she was having nightmare.”
Ibrahim brought both mother and son to her house, talked them through the night and slept in the same bed as the mother until she could fall asleep.
Stories like this one aren't rare inside Hamilton’s immigrant communities. New Canadians in the city often turn to community leaders like Ibrahim instead of mental health professionals, said Liliana Figueredo, Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion's community engagement coordinator.
In response, HCCI started the Health and Well-being Cultural-Linguistic Promoters Program, largely funded by a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion. HCCI found that many immigrants didn't know where to go or sometimes how to talk about mental health.
"If I go to the doctor and tell him I don't want to get out of bed, he'll think I'm lazy," said Pat Wright of HCCI, describing how some cultural backgrounds might perceive depression. "I'll just tell him I have a headache."
The program has 13 "health promoters" – all volunteers – who will act as liaisons between the community and mental health professionals. The health promoters cover 10 different communities in Hamilton, including South Asian, Filipino, Chinese and Latino, and hold meetings with community members and health professionals. The promoter will act as translator and facilitator to help the community get over cultural differences and language barriers, said Wright.
"In different cultures, maybe there aren’t even words for mental health in the way that we know them in this culture," said Lorraine Chapman, director of mental health programs for Good Sheppard, one of the program's community partners.
"There is usually stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse issues. We always have to fight that stigma in getting people coming to come forward for services but also it may be seen in very different ways in different cultural groups."
The meetings with the community will look like a fireside chat to increase the comfort level of participants, said Chapman.
Ibrahim said in the Somali community, mental health is typically not discussed, especially amongst women.
"It's the story of shame," she said "[Somalis] think mental disorders are a cause."
The Somali community has baggage, said Ibrahim. The majority of Somali immigrants who came to Hamilton after the civil war in the early 1990s have no formal education. She has found that the parents are illiterate and the children had never seen the inside of a classroom.
Ibrahim has seen Somalis who have difficulty finding work, live below the poverty line and become deeply depressed.
"They come here and most of them came through the war, so there is a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder within them and Somalis are not people who can go out and seek help," she said. "The service providers cannot reach them. They are hard to reach people."
Health promoters had their "graduation" this past Saturday. It is now up to them to plan a meeting with their community members and invite a mental health professional to join, said Figueredo.
She hopes the meetings will begin the end of June or beginning of July.
For Ibrahim, this program is just an extension of the community work she already does. She suffered from post-traumatic stress before moving to Canada herself, and now is looking to link her community with the help that is needed.
"If I help three or four people," she said with a smile. "I'll be good to go."
Source: CBC News