King County Pioneers New Practice for Refugee Mental Health

March 14, 2014
News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


In Washington State—one of the biggest entry points for refugees entering the US—a group of service providers has developed some new ways to help refugees cope with the nightmares, depression, and PTSD that are common among them. Beth Farmer, a program director with Lutheran Community Services, said that often a refugee’s mental distress would only surface once a crisis occurred: “They had lost their jobs, they were being evicted, they had attempted suicide.” Local agencies have collaborated to provide support before a danger point is reached, forming culturally based groups to lessen isolation, such as a weaving circle for Somali women. The providers also created a tool for physicians to use when administering the mandatory health exam conducted with all refugees: a simple survey with 15 culturally appropriate questions designed to identify signs of distress such as worry and anxiety. Up to 70 percent of people referred for mental health treatment follow through. King County now uses this tool to screen all new refugees, and one in every three is referred to mental health treatment. Plans are underway to use the tool statewide.

Spark Extra! See the Toolkit for Primary Care Providers Treating Refugees developed by Washington state practitioners.