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Mental Health in the African Immigrant Community

Mental Health in the African Immigrant Community

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Recently, at a meeting of social workers serving African immigrants, I brought up the issue of mental health. "We don't have a problem with mental illness in the African community," a caseworker told me, citing the resilience of a population largely familiar with extreme poverty, human rights abuses, and instability.

Later, after everyone else had gone, another caseworker who leads support groups around depression said, "They won't use that word, but they're depressed." Instead, she said, "they say they are ‘worried' or they ‘think too much'-it's almost impossible to get them into counseling."

The caseworker sighed. Mental health, she admitted, is "the only piece of the puzzle we don't know how to deal with."

"In Africa, if you say you are sick, it means you are dying. If you ask for psychiatric help, it means you are crazy," a third caseworker from Mauritania told me. Cultural barriers add to a fear of institutionalization that most immigrants believe will result in deportation, ending their chances of staying in America and supporting families back home.

This winter, I will produce a radio documentary profile of an African immigrant struggling with mental illness to air on NPR's Latino USA. I'm planning to collaborate with Francophone and Anglophone radio programs in New York City aimed at African immigrants, such as WPAT 930AM, a community radio station that serves African communities with daily programming. I hope to rebroadcast the documentary profile and collaboratively produce several call-in programs with existing hosts, guests from the profile, and community leaders to encourage listener participation through an outlet popular with African immigrants.

I see an urgent need for conversation around mental illness within African immigrant communities. The African immigrant population in the US has increased over forty-fold since 1960, growing from 35,000 to 1.4 million. This population rarely receives media coverage commensurate with its size, on any topic. The goal of this project as a whole is most simply to shed some light on the unique barriers that African immigrants face in terms of seeking out mental health care, and to offer one way to open up a conversation within African communities on an issue that is controversial and rarely acknowledged.


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I am impressed to finally read an article on African Mental health. This article is different in that you actually ask the Africans them selves and git the feedback. I am a PHD student and I am writing a project on the same topic. I would appreciate if you could give me more information on when you work would air.
Some of the factors that has contributed to mental health issues are;
Lack of interaction with different communities; other members of different immigrant group might have different ideas that could help them.
Lack of employment or underemployment; about 64% of Africans immigrants have at least a bachelor degree yet they worked on jobs that might not even have basic health insurance.
Fear of failure: some of these individuals were CEOs and leaders in their own countries before migrating to the US. Having minimum wage jobs might be traumatizing to them.
Pressure from families back home (Africa); an average African send about $1500.00 to$3000.00 home. This might additional pressure to the family.
Some might have post-traumatic stress syndrome; depending on which part of African they are coming from. Some of them might have witnessed their entire family or village killed. Some might have gone “through hell “ to migrate to the US. Some trek (walk) for thousands of miles through the Sub-Saharan region to Europe before ending in the US.
Arranged marriages; mostly done for the men who have been in the US for more than 10 to 20 years. Some go back home to take their wives back to the US some actually meet their future wives at the airport. This young wives have their own knowledge and idea about life. They might leave their husbands after education; some might leave immediately they realized the husband they married is old, and have no financial stability. This has resulted to murder especially among the Nigerians immigrant.


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