Mental health problems facing the Ethiopian Diaspora
| November 3, 2011



"The Ethiopian Community Action Network, Los Angeles In Partnership With the Ethiopian Heritage Society of North America (EHSNA) Invites you to a seminar whose theme is:

"Mental Health Problems Facing the Ethiopian Diaspora World-wide"

Guest Speaker: Assefa Negash, M.D., Psychiatry

Sunday, November 6, 2011, 3 PM
Veterans Memorial Building
4117 Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA"

In the post-February 1974 period, the Ethiopian society has been subjected to a continuous wave of political instability that resulted in urban and rural violence unprecedented in the recent history of that nation. The process of destabilization has continued to this day and continues to generate a wave of Ethiopian refugees who continue to seek refuge here in the West. A generation of Ethiopians who witnessed and survived the violence that gripped the country has been forced to seek refuge in various nooks and crannies of the world. This is the process that led to the emergence of the Ethiopian Diaspora in the post-1974 years. In addition to suffering experienced or witnessed in Ethiopia, some members of the Ethiopian Diaspora group have been exposed to the vagaries of emotionally taxing pain (rape, humiliation, imprisonment, psychological harassment, etc) during their flight en route (Sudan, Somalia, Dijbouti, Kenya, etc) to the safe haven that the West represented for them. Life as refugee in the West was also not easy with all the existential insecurity it represented for many, albeit, during the asylum procedure.

During the lat 37 years, more than half a million Ethiopians have settled in Western Europe, North America (USA & Canada) and Australia. Involuntary migration (exile) brings with it both opportunities and challenges. Involuntary migration or exile presupposes not only geographical dislocation into the realm of the unknown world filled by uncertainties. It also presupposes cultural uprooting and sudden and violent severance of contact with the familiar cultural world with the all emotional valence this disruption causes. The emotional dislocation entails leaving behind one’s dear family members, familiar culture, society, mores, values, custom, tradition and points of emotional attachment, etc. As much as moving into a new country and society can be a source of new opportunities, it can also be a source of new challenges, difficulties that stretch one’s emotional resources to the extreme. This can then be experienced as a series of stressful life events that sap one’s emotional strength, challenge human resilience and in some cases overwhelm the individual to the point of a desperate suicidal act that proves very tragic both for the suicide victim and his loved ones.

Ethiopians are stoic people who have learned to cry in silence and bear unimaginable pain for decades on end. The pain which Ethiopians have to bear in the course of nearly 4 decades of continued social disruption is expressing itself here in the Diaspora in the form of unacknowledged psychic trauma, depression, anxiety, paranoid decomposition, alcohol dependence, para-suicide (suicide attempts), homicide, murder suicide and suicide. The reverberations of the emotional dislocation the cracks deriving thereof are enduring and even more painful. Despite the increasing suffering Ethiopians have to contend with and the alarmingly increasing suicide trends within the ranks of the Ethiopian Diaspora, hardly any attempt has been made to come together for a common reflection as a community. To illustrate the gravity of the problem, the following figures are in order. In Holland where the total refugee population from Eritrea & Ethiopia amounts just 10000, 49 Ethiopians & Eritreans have committed suicide between 1987-2011. This figure concerns only inhabitants of in few major cities and does not include all areas of Holland where these two groups are located. In Toronto at one time, there was one suicide case per month in a city where an estimated 30000 to 40000 Ethiopians live. The picture for Ethiopians living in the Middle East is even more depressing where in Beirut 4 Ethiopian women committed suicide in a space of a week. In Israel, among the Ethiopian Jews, 234 individuals have committed suicide between 1981-2005 and this rate is seven to ten times that of the other mainstream Jewish population.

For many Ethiopians the very subject of mental health is a taboo subject. The mentally ill person is a highly stigmatized person in our traditional society and dismissed as being “ ... .... ... ........ ..... ... (Amharic); ...: ... (Oromigna); ... (Tigringa); ... (Somali) etc. In Ethiopia, mental illness is traditionally conceived as being a moral weakness, the curse or punishment of God, work of an evil eye (Buda) or ancestral spirits (Woukabi) or possession by a Zar, etc. In an attempt to acquaint the Ethiopian community in Los Angeles with the extent of the mental health problems confronting the Ethiopian Diaspora, Dr. Assefa Negash, a native of Ethiopia & who is himself a refugee & works as a psychiatrist in Holland, will share with us his professional perspectives on mental health problems which are facing the Ethiopian Diaspora dotted around the world. In his power-point presentation, he will deal with the following subjects on Sunday the 6th of November 2011 in Los Angeles:

  1. What is Mental Health & what are the mental health problems the Ethiopian Diaspora faces? How have both pre-migration & post-migration stress factors faced by the Ethiopian Diaspora adversely impacted the mental health of the Ethiopian Diaspora?

  2. What is Depression & what are its consequences? Does depression affect Ethiopians? If so, how does it manifest itself in our Diaspora community? Why do members of the Ethiopian community fail to recognize the symptoms of depression while suffering its debilitating and sometimes deadly consequences such as suicide & self-harm?

  3. Why are Ethiopians in the Diaspora increasingly turning to Suicide as a means of dealing with their problems? What are the underlying psychiatric problems which lead to suicide?

  4. Problems related to severe Traumatic experiences (torture, rape, psychological terror, degrading treatment & humiliation, etc) & their negative impact on the mental health of Ethiopians would be highlighted with the help of case studies.

  5. The Mental Health of Ethiopian Children and Youth who have to negotiate the difficult process of growing up in two cultures (Ethiopian & US) and the psychiatric dimensions of negotiating a conflicting identity for this group would be highlighted.

At the end of the presentation, there will be ample time allotted to the audience to hear their perspectives; take up questions & respond to their questions. The active participation of the audience by way of raising questions & expressing opinions on the subject under discussion is highly appreciated.


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