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Sawsan Hasan and Nadeem Ramiydh on Refugee PTSD

Nadeem Ramiydh, left, looks into the camera and is wearing black glasses and a bright blue polo shirt. Sawsan Hasan, right, is wearing a white headscarf, a blue jacket and a bright, multi-colored floral scarf around her neck.
Rebecca Smith

Sawsan Hasan and Nadeem Ramiydh both work for the Refugee & Immigration Services office in Columbia. Both of them work with refugees on a daily basis and are from Iraq themselves. They spoke about the need for more mental health care within the refugee and immigrant communities – especially when it comes to dealing with PTSD.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Sawsan Hasan: So the most health issues that I saw [were] that patients - and I think that Nadeem would also agree most of our clients - they have trauma in their life. So they need more mental assessment.

One of the cases, she is in the middle of [her] fifties. She has severe PTSD. She was tortured, kidnapped, they killed her toddler and also her father in front of her, and then they raped her - tortured her. And she cannot work because when the flashback[s] come to her memory, it is like nightmares, and so I'm trying -like what I can do, I am doing it.

Nadeem Ramiydh: They will just, kind of, most of them, they will just say, "It's something from the past. It happened, and we can't do anything about it." That's how they take it, but the thing is, what they need to understand [is], how they need to live with it.

The idea is the same thing about trauma with the American soldiers when they come back home. They cannot rewire them. You have to live with this the rest of your life, but you have to know how you approach it. It's already in your brain. It's already in your memory. There is no way it can be erased unless if you lose your memory, but the idea is, we keep trying to explain to them, there is no shame of admitting that you have PTSD.

So what is your favorite memory?

Sawsan: Well interesting to hear [from] you, Nadeem. I do a support group for women. It was like the best part of this job. That I had the chance to build a very good relationship and friendships with each one of these ladies. I had meetings with them once a week, and it was so successful because we did fun activities, like sometimes we draw or sometimes we play bingo.

Nadeem: And this is the American culture - Bingo. And they loved it.

Sawsan: They loved it! And they enjoy it.

Nadeem: For me, I would just say each client that I saw have a different story, and people - they go from Sudan, from Ertria. They walk. They drive. They do crazy things to cross the seas. They risk their lives for this life.

Sawsan: Yeah.

Nadeem: Looking for only one thing - hope.

Sawsan: A safe place. A refuge.

Nadeem: And that's what - they really feel happy when they come here, and they just make their dreams come true. I mean this is what I keep telling them, "When you come here, your dream[s] come true. But now this is the reality. It's not a dream anymore." You have to face it.

And every time they come, they walk to the office with a problem or with a piece of mail [that is] confusing, I just tell them "Welcome to America."

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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