Encouraging immigrants to open up about their troubles
2017-07-04 14:19:43 -
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Isolation is common among immigrants finding their feet in new surroundings and new communities – and with isolation comes an increased risk to mental heath.
 
That’s the sober warning from Emmanuel Njume Sone, advocate for Ireland’s immigrant communities with Cairde, a programme that challenges minority health inequalities. 
 
He explains that individuals may choose to ignore their own position to help others, even though it’s ultimately counter-productive if they put their health at risk.
 
“It’s the fact that when people leave their areas of comfort and move to a new environment, they lack the strong social structure that can actually cause a lot of social problems,” he says. “Isolation is very common … you may have all the money in the world but if you don’t have true real friends, it can be very disheartening.”
 
Cairde started in mid-1980s as a forum where people with HIV could speak about their fears and hardships in confidence. 
 
After medical breakthroughs and the reduction in social stigma transformed the experience for those with the virus, Cairde transitioned to concentrating in migrant issues - providing a space for immigrants to open up about their troubles and receive help.
 
Sone is passionate about the importance of a strong support system within any community, as well as his desire to help people in his work and everyday life. He says the benefit in helping others is because you never know when you will be in a similar situation.
 
“When I see a person that is being marginalised, or being treated unfairly for one reason or another, I take on the costs automatically.”
 
Sone jokes that he has been practicing law since he was 12 years old – fighting for others and finding leaks in systems that discriminate against minorities.
 
As an immigrant from Cameroon in west Africa, he believes he has a particular understanding of the feelings of isolation and the loss of a sense of community among immigrants from Africa to the west.
 
Mental health is repeatedly mentioned regarding Cairde’s work because of its increasing relevance to the general health of immigrants in Ireland. 
 
“When you think of mental health, a lot of people think ‘Oh let’s take them to the hospital.’ However, this is a really small factor in this person’s recovery or treatment,” says Sone.
Mental health itself, he adds, is a reflection of societal problems. But one of the key contributing factors of mental illness – isolation – can easily be fixed within communities or by a few individuals. 
 
Treatment by medical professionals only goes so far, says Sone: one needs a community, family, or friends to get better.
 
Commenting on the factors of good health, Sone notes: “Those with a family or friends or a bigger connection with other people recover faster than those with very little social connections. It tells you that health by itself is not only about medicine but also about social connection.”
 
Another point he elaborates upon is that health is not just physical or mental. It’s also experiential: a housing problem, an employment problem, domestic violence, or social problems within a community.

Cairde deals with a variety of cases, says Sone, because health does not have a static definition.
 
“When an issue has some taboo about it, nobody talks about it, so it goes under the radar all the time. For us at Cairde, this is the thing that catches our attention. We know that that is where the real problem is.”
TAGS : Emmanuel Njume Sone Cairde
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