Refugee health issues now more complexby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Today's refugees settling in Minnesota tend to have more complex health problems than before, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's Refugee Health Program.
The program coordinates medical screenings for the new arrivals. They may show signs of post-traumatic stress, diabetes, and schizophrenia.
A task force of health care professionals and others concerned about refugee health met Tuesday to discuss the matter. Private consultant Ann O'Fallon said there aren't enough resources to help refugees experiencing depression and other mental health issues.
"Coming here to America, watching your children become Westernized is really painful for a lot of families," O'Fallon said. "For a lot of men, whoever they were at home — the farmer, the doctor, the lawyer, the merchant, the great poet — here they're just another guy on the street, because their skills don't transfer here. And it creates a lot of mental health issues."
The majority of new refugees in Minnesota continue to come from Somalia and Myanmar, also known as Burma. Last year, Minnesota ranked 12th in the nation for the number of refugees it received.
The health department is in its first year of assigning a medical social worker to help manage these cases. It's also working on a new set of screening tools to better detect signs of mental health problems among the new arrivals.
Sara Chute, who coordinates the department's refugee health program and says one reason for the increased number of complex cases is the amount of time today's refugees spend in camps.
"An example is the refugees from Bhutan. The average time a Bhutanese has spent in a camp is 16 years, so people are staying in camps longer," Chute said.
Health experts say it's important for refugees with diagnosed mental health disorders to seek help within a week or two after arriving in the U.S.