New Directions in Refugee Youth Mental Health Services

Overcoming Barriers to Engagement

Refugees have been exposed to persecution and violence, and suffered significant stress and trauma. Refugee children and their families who have relocated to the United States can face the added stress of adjusting to a new culture and home.

Mental health services are often underutilized by refugee children and adolescents. Barriers to receiving mental health treatment include distrust of authority and/or systems; stigma of mental health services; linguistic and cultural barriers; and privacy and prioritization of resettlement stressors.

This article discusses these barriers and ways to address them. Sharing the experience of Project SHIFA—Supporting the Health of Immigrant Families and Adolescents—a program in Boston, Mass., the authors offer a way to collaborate with refugee communities to create salient programs that meet the needs of the community.

Project SHIFA is a school-based mental health promotion program for Somali youth. The project uses school environments and parents, teachers and primary care physicians to introduce youth to the mental health services available to them. Many of the services are offered in the school. By engaging the Somali community in the creation of this project, Project SHIFA fosters communication and openness about the important role these services play in fostering mental health.

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