A GROUND-breaking mental health event will be held in the Glenfield Community Centre to raise the issue of mental health within Wagga’s African community.

The concept of mental health is largely foreign to more than 300 African refugees who have settled in the city.

Mental illness is regarded as a silent crisis across the continent of Africa, where people with mental illness are frequently resigned to the dark corners of churches, chained to rusted hospital beds, locked away to live behind the bars of filthy prisons or tied to sticks in displacement camps.

Despite a growing belief amongst health organisations and experts that investing in mental health in African countries would bolster development across the continent and impact on the success of programs focusing on target health issues, it has not found its way into core programs.

While there is a strong focus on health issues such as AIDs, HIV and malaria in third-world communities, Wagga African Association Inc representative John Moi said a lack of access to information about mental illness in their home countries has caused the issue to be greatly misunderstood by refugees now living in Australia.

“The concept of mental health is entirely new to us and our understanding of mental health is completely different to people here,” he said.

“Mental health is not recognised in the same way.

“For many African people, when someone talks about mental illness they think of the person who is running naked down the street or the person who behaviours very strangely.

“They don’t realise things like social isolation, thought patterns, feeling anxious or worried or all the things we think about are part of mental health.

“We have to create an awareness that mental health is not madness.”

John admits the lack of awareness, stigma, feelings of shame and an inability to recognise the signs of mental illness are leaving members of the African community suffering in silence.

“They shy away and fear they will be shunned,” he said.

“From this event we hope to create awareness and de-stigmatise the existence of mental health issues.

“This event is targeting the African community, but it is open to the wider community as well.”

John believes a combination of factors could leave African refuges vulnerable if a greater awareness about the need to address mental health is not established.

“The challenges for refuges are different,” he said.

“Cultural differences, language barriers and limitations, the trauma they have suffered in their past as well as things like trying to get a job and settle in their new home can be very hard.”

The Tuongee Pamoja (Let’s Talk Together) event will take place on Saturday November 2 from 11am to 4pm in the Glenfield Community Centre, to coincide with Mental Health Month.

Participants will have a chance to discuss issues and raise questions with mental health facilitators, share personal stories in a safe and supportive environment, gain knowledge of services and enjoy African music and dance.

There is no cost and light refreshments will be served.

For more information on Mental Health Month, visit www.mentalhealth.asn.au.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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