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World Health Worker Week 2015: Global to local mental health

Apr 10, 2015

Farah Mohamed, UW Social Work and MPH Intern

Today, we turn our attention to Seattle and the important role that mental health workers play in ensuring immigrants and refugees are able to access not only clinical health care, but essential mental health services as they adapt to life in the US.  Farah Mohamed, an HAI intern, talked with a local social service organization on how they help Somali refugees in Seattle.

In celebration of World Health Worker Week, I interviewed Mohamed Awad, a behavioral health counselor and refugee health case manager at Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), a non-profit organization based in Seattle that mainly serves refugees and immigrant families. Mental health is often a neglected part of overall health care, and mental health workers are a critical part in ensuring access to health for all. Mohamed supports newly arrived immigrants to access medical services, overcome traumatic experiences, and access to housing and employment.

Mohamed goes above and beyond his duty to support refugee families facing many challenges—cultural, language, socio-economic and education—transcend and adjust to their new home. As most of his clients don’t speak English upon arrival in the United States, it takes a lot of efforts and time to support them access services within Seattle area provided by social service agencies. He connects refugees to primary care doctors who provide medical services and refers them to specialists for chronic health problems that need further examinations. Upon arrival, most refugees rely on Department of Social and Human Services for cash assistance to pay their rent. Money received from the DHS, however, is not enough to pay rent and cover other family needs, so Mohamed works with refugees to apply for jobs and low-income housing. Those two things are paramount for both psychological and economic stability.

Cultural differences between his clients and service providers were main the challenges Mohamed noted in our discussion. A doctor may come in and talk to the child for several minutes before talking to the parents. This creates cultural collision between the parents (mostly Somali) and the doctors since those families see that behavior as disrespectful in the clients’ culture. In Somalia, parents expect to be greeted and interacted with before children are addressed. Although American doctors may not have any ill intention, but such poor interaction may discourage parents seek medical attention for their children. Mohamed tries to breach those differences and educate parents and service providers.

Path leading up hill past large tree

Mohamed uses the picture above to empower his clients adjust to their environment and become successful. The road to success is not straight, he says, but hard work and determination will lead them to reach their final destination, which is a successful life.

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Our mission is to promote policies and support programs that strengthen government primary health care and foster social, economic, and health equity for all. Our vision is a just world that promotes health and well-being, including universal access to quality health care.

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Health Alliance International began in 1987 as a US-based international solidarity organization committed to supporting the public sector provision of health care for all.  Over 35 years, HAI conducted programs in 17 countries, with flagship programs in Mozambique, Côte d'Ivoire, and Timor-Leste.

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In line with HAI’s commitment to support and strengthen local public health leadership, as of October 2021, HAI fully transitioned global operations and active programs to locally-based, locally-led NGOs. Learn more about this shift toward local autonomy and equity in global health.

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