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SAMHSA News - March/April, Volume 14, Number 2

Toolkit Supports Refugee Mental Health

Refugees who seek safety and shelter in the United States can face various health challenges before, during, and after they settle into their new communities.

To help community organizations engage in activities to promote health and prevent diseases among refugee populations, SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services' Refugee Mental Health Program recently prepared the Refugee Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Toolkit in collaboration with the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Office of Global Health Affairs within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In their home countries, these individuals may have been exposed to infectious and parasitic diseases as well as physical and psychological trauma. And as they make their journey to their new home, they are often malnourished and exposed to rapidly spreading diseases, especially while they are housed at crowded refugee settlements or camps. After migration and resettlement, they confront chronic diseases that affect the general population in the United States. These diseases include obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Refugees also may be at higher risk for developing mental health problems.

Introduced as a key part of the Points of Wellness—Partnering for Refugee Health and Well-Being initiative, the free toolkit is designed for community organizations such as churches or other faith-based groups, mutual assistance associations, and nonprofit groups concerned with refugee health. The toolkit offers basic guidance and reference materials to help organizations encourage the physical, mental, and social well-being of refugees, which includes preventing disease, improving quality of life, and reducing health disparities.

"We hope any group of individuals concerned about refugee health will use these materials to improve the long-term health of refugees in the United States and help them feel strong, active, wise, and worthwhile," said CAPT John J. Tuskan, Jr., Director of SAMHSA's Refugee Mental Health Program.

The toolkit contains the following components:

  • Manual: Includes guidance on how to plan and conduct culturally appropriate activities that build individual awareness of health issues.

  • Training guide and PowerPoint slides: Provide step-by-step guidance as organizations begin to share the information in the manual with others.

  • Article: Provides an orientation to the field and activities of health promotion and disease prevention.

  • Video: Provides an introduction to promoting health among refugees.

  • CD-ROM: Contains an electronic version of the entire manual and PowerPoint slides.

The main component of the toolkit is the manual, which offers ways for groups to develop and implement health promotion activities in refugee communities, addresses the importance of cultural sensitivity in health promotion work, and provides helpful resources. Used as either a reference tool or a program development guide, the manual helps meet the needs of individual organizations.

The manual shows users how to assess the health needs of their communities, how to identify existing resources, and how to use partnerships to promote community health successfully.

"The toolkit gives communities the capacity to plan, implement, and evaluate whatever works for them," said CAPT Tuskan. "Having communities take ownership of the health status of their residents is the best way to ensure long-term health improvement for everyone."

Because every community has varying needs, the toolkit describes a range of programs that can be used to promote health and prevent disease, including support groups and health fairs.

The toolkit is available on the SAMHSA Web site at

Limited print copies of the toolkit are available from SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center, P.O. Box 42557, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: 1 (800) 789-2647 or 1 (866) 889-2647 (TTY). 

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