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Helping San Diego-Resettled Refugees Overcome Trauma

Nile Sisters Development Initiative Senior Program Manager Rebecca Paida, who...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Nile Sisters Development Initiative Senior Program Manager Rebecca Paida, who also chairs the San Diego Refugee Forum, speaks at a news conference announcing a refugee mental health toolkit, Oct. 10, 2017.

A City Heights-based nonprofit drew attention to refugee mental health needs to mark World Mental Health Day in San Diego. Nile Sisters Development Initiative touted on Tuesday its grassroots effort called MIND, Matters Involving Neuro-Disorders, to assess behavioral health resources for newcomers and brainstorm improvements to services.

Many of the thousands of refugees who land in San Diego each year may be fleeing violent situations in their home countries, which can leave physical but also emotional scars.

Helping San Diego-Resettled Refugees Overcome Trauma


Elizabeth Lou, Nile Sisters Development Initiative

Alfredo Aguirre, San Diego County, Behavioral Health Services


A July 2017 report from UC San Diego showed some traumatic experiences affecting Somali refugees may even impact their U.S.-born children, and preliminary survey results shared at a June conference in San Diego found high rates of anxiety among Syrian refugee kids.

Nile Sisters launched MIND to unite community and government stakeholders to better serve these kinds of behavioral health needs among refugees. The organization facilitated a series of roundtable discussions that found challenges to care include language and cultural barriers.

"The term anxiety may not be in all refugee languages," Nile Sisters founder Elizabeth Lou said, noting that while services do exist, providers may not be able to meet the needs of the region's large refugee population.

San Diego County Behavioral Health Director Alfredo Aguirre, who has worked with the MIND coalition, said the county offers specialized programs for refugees but acknowledged hurdles exist.

"The challenging piece with our refugee community is they bring in an assortment of issues and not all of our resources are as culturally competent or as responsive as we would like," Aguirre said. "We don't have all the languages — there's a myriad of languages that come to our country."

As a Medi-Cal provider, Aguirre said the county is required to offer services in five "threshold" languages, which include Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Tagolog and Vietnamese, but said there are interpretation options for other languages.

On World Mental Health Day, KPBS Midday Edition spoke with Lou and Aguirre about the resources available to refugees and the efforts to bridge any gaps.

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