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WA Strives to Meet Refugee Mental Health Needs

May 13, 2013

SEATTLE - It's National Prevention Week, for raising public awareness of mental health and substance-abuse issues.

A documentary made in Washington calls attention to the mental health needs of refugees. In "Starting Again: Stories of Refugee Youth," young people describe their struggles and successes after coming to the United States from four different countries.

Younger refugees tend to adapt more quickly than their parents, said Beth Farmer, a social worker for Lutheran Community Services Northwest, but no one is immune to depression and post-traumatic stress.

"It's very understandable that people are experiencing these symptoms," she said. "They come from some of the most violent situations imaginable. And even though they're safe and they're grateful for being here, it's a very pressured adaptation with a lot of stress."

Refugees often come from cultures where mental-health treatment still means government-run institutions, she said. Washington is a leader in screening for mental health conditions as part of the resettlement process, and Seattle now has a Torture Treatment Collaborative to connect survivors with medical, mental and legal help.

"I think there's been a lot of efforts by the state of Washington to ease people's adjustment, lessen their suffering, catch people early - among refugee new arrivals," she said.

In her work with refugees, Farmer said, making sure their children have education and a better life are prime motivators for most. In her experience, they're willing to work hard and infuse new energy into the state.

"I think that refugees make good neighbors," she said. "I think that they make good community members. I think they have a lot of resilience, good for communities."

Only one-half of one percent of refugees are ever resettled, Farmer said, and the United States is one of only a handful of nations that accepts them. About 2,100 people from 33 countries arrived in Washington as refugees last year.

National Prevention Week is held at the beginning of summer, when federal health authorities say many occasions and activities take place that lend themselves to substance abuse.

"Starting Again" can be viewed on the website King County is sponsoring a free film screening, dinner and discussion beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the 2100 Building, 2100 24th Ave. S., Seattle. Those wishing to attend are requested to R.S.V.P. by e-mail to

Refugee data by state is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA