The Center for Equity and Inclusion partnered with the Somali Student As­sociation on Jan. 15 to host Shah Iyo Sheko, meaning “Tea Stories” — an event series about mental health stigma in the Somali community. The event aimed to allow attendees to share their stories and experiences about their cul­tural biases on mental illness. The first few minutes into the discussion were dedicated to thinking about the phras­es that come to mind when hearing the term “mental health illness.” The phras­es mentioned were, “You’re just sad,” or “You’re just being dramatic.”

When attendees were prompted to consider what has influenced the per­ception about mental health, a response was the following:

“We don’t look at the people, we look at the labels… seeking help doesn’t change you as a person, but how people view you as a person.”

Dr. Cassandra Nichols, director of the Student Counseling Center and a licensed psychologist from UW Ta­coma, emphasized the commonality of mental health illness in the United States. Nichols said that while mental health illness has been somewhat nor­malized in the U.S., people of color are still less likely to seek help due to cul­tural bias.

“I think that acknowledging mental illness and seeking counseling is more acceptable by white, mainstream peo­ple in the U.S,” said Nichols. “Both, however, are more likely to be stigma­tized by people of color. The reasons are varied but include a lack of under­standing of mental illness and counsel­ing, historical bias and focus on west­ern values in the counseling and psychotherapy field, and a lack of rep­resentation of mental health providers and researchers of color. At the UWT Student Counseling Center, about 45 percent of students seen for mental health counseling for the Fall 2018 quarter were students of color.”

The discussion explained that lan­guage barriers create an indirect trans­lation of depression and anxiety to older generations, causing them not to fully understand the illness of younger Somali generations. Elders within the Somali community rely on religion to answer their mental illness issues rath­er than medical or therapeutic attention. A student confirmed this at the discus­sion, explaining that the Somali culture downplays feelings associated with mental illness, and instead relies on the Islamic religion as a cure.

“The community and family want to help, but they don’t have the resourc­es,” Nasri Isaac, the Center for Equity and Inclusion member, said.

The event series Shah Iyo Sheko will continue to cover discussions about the many different cultures represented at UWT. The Center for Equity and Inclu­sion will announce future discussions and collaborations within the event series soon.


For more information:
www.tacoma.uw.edu/equity/center-equity-inclusion


PHOTO BY MOLICA CHAU
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