Escaping violence, finding treatment for trauma
by Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program
Canada is a safe haven for so many refugees fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries, but these victims of trauma often cannot escape the nightmares and haunting memories they bring with them.
Whether they have escaped civil conflict or genocide, these clients who have been traumatized can often be embarrassed because it is not something discussed in their culture. For example, in the Caribbean, the stigma and shame connected with mental illness means people feel they are not allowed to complain, not allowed to seek help because coming forward means shame on you and shame on your family.
The reality is when you don’t have support – either social or familial support – and you leave post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) untreated, it can lead to other mental health problems or addiction issues.
The added challenge for many refugees or new immigrants who have experienced trauma is the language barrier.
If you can’t speak English, it’s difficult to ask for what you need.
Who do you ask? Where do you go for treatment?
So that is why CAMH works with translators, social workers and other support staff who can provide translation services and also be culturally sensitive in working with these clients to make them comfortable with assessment and open to treatment.
Language and cultural assistance are key to breaking through the shame to reach the person in need to help. At CAMH, there is an initiative to ensure trauma-informed care is inter-professional and woven into the work of psychologists, social workers, nurses and occupational and recreational therapists.
Many of our clients who come from war-torn countries arrive in Canada with PTSD.
Their journey to escape violence to come here for a better life often means they push aside the memories of seeing their sister raped or their father killed.
And when they arrive in Canada, they want to start fresh. But while they have escaped the violence, they cannot run away from the trauma which lives inside their heads.
So when we are looking at cultural differences, we need to take into consideration that people have their own pace of moving through the illness and there are layers of shame, painful memories and thoughts of suicide to work through.
As most of the treatment involves talk therapy, we closely monitor how clients react when asked questions and how comfortable they are talking about their trauma – whether it’s through cognitive behaviour therapy or cognitive processing therapy.
It’s through talking openly that we hope to eventually break down the barriers to treatment for those in need and help them work through the pain of PTSD.
Photo: by hdptcar, creative commons license