In 2014, nearly 55 million people worldwide were forced to leave their homes because of conflict, persecution, and violence. In the same year, the United States admitted 69,986 refugees, offering these displaced persons the opportunity to rebuild their lives and realize the American dream. However, the trauma of displacement and the stress of adjusting to life in America can take a toll in a variety of ways. Indeed, compared with the general population, refugees experience higher rates of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Each year, North Carolina resettles almost 3,000 refugees. However, the resettlement process does not include mental health screenings even though many refugees have experienced substantial trauma. Moreover, refugees who need mental health services encounter barriers to accessing needed help such as the lack of interpreters and the shortage of mental health providers who are trained to work with the complex traumas and diverse cultures of refugees.
In response to this unmet need, the Refugee Mental Health and Wellness Initiative (hereafter, Refugee Wellness) was launched to improve the training and capacity of North Carolina service providers serving these vulnerable individuals and families. Refugee Wellness began by training master’s of social work (MSW) students in using an evidence-supported mental health screening protocol for refugees. Through the Refugee Wellness project, students collected data on the mental health needs of refugees and the types of mental health services refugees received. In 2015, Refugee Wellness began contracting with the Refugee Office of the State Division of Health and Human Services to directly provide mental health services to refugees throughout Wake, Durham, and Orange Counties.