Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health in the East African Community

Wednesday, June 27th, Making Connections hosted an event at the United Women of East Africa center in order to address the issue of mental health in the East African community. The event, titled Know the Symptoms, Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health in the East African Community, brought together community members, including parents, youth, and health care providers as well as experts on the topic of mental health issues.

During the first half of the event, Dr. Gebaynesh Gashaw-Gant, psychologist and member of the American Psychological Association, related her experiences working in the field both in the US and in her own home country of Ethiopia. She stressed the importance of cultural competency in addressing the symptoms of mental health, noting the difference between practices in both regions of the world.

Following Dr. Gant’s speech, the organizers and facilitators of the event, Jama Mohamed and Agazit Tesfai, exemplified the communication challenges that can arise between mother and son through a skit that acknowledged the differences in expectations, in culture and in age that can act as obstacles to a cohesive community setting.

The skit also illustrated the difficulty the mother had asking her son whether or not he was okay. Dr. John Kuek, Marriage and Family Counselor at La Maestra Community Health Center, took the stage to address this issue, with a focus on involving community, and ways to actually broach the subject of mental health within the family. He spoke about the importance of leadership coming from within the community, and their ability to rise to the challenges and address their own problems.

Members of the audience, both young and old, also had a chance to participate, with some voicing ideas and opinions on ways to break the communication barrier across generations and cultures. One suggestion was to train youth counselors to be the bridge between parents and children or between cultures, and to act as support for members of the community to ask for help or advice.


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