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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Editorial: The first prayer is for health

Somali youth mental health needs to be addressed.
Image by Sarah Mai

“The first prayer is for health,” shared a guest presenter in my class — a simple yet powerful statement that compelled me to revisit my 2015 op-ed penned for when I was a junior in high school.

In that piece, I described how my family emigrated from Uganda to Seattle, leaving everything behind in pursuit of the idealized life promised in pamphlets. However, upon arrival, our dreams were shattered, replaced by the harsh reality of discrimination and racism, exacerbated by our direct experience of harmful and disproportionate policies like Seattle Public Schools’ ‘walk-zone.’ Almost a decade later, as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I find myself revisiting these experiences and passionately advocating for another policy change to support communities like mine.

Haunted by the untreated mental health crises affecting Minnesota’s Somali immigrant youth, I can’t help but draw parallels to my 2015 op-ed.

Picture leaving your familiar life behind, fleeing war, poverty, hunger, and limited potential, only to arrive in a foreign land with dreams as vast as the ocean you crossed. Yet, upon reaching physical safety, you grapple with untreated mental health challenges — a cruel irony to the struggles you’ve already overcome.

Somali youth in Minnesota grapple with alarmingly high rates of untreated depression, engaging in a silent battle against a mental health crisis that often goes unnoticed. The trajectory of this problem is shaped by the echoes of war, displacement and cultural adjustment, intensifying their struggles and creating a perfect storm that demands attention from all who claim to be child advocates and protectors.

However, a significant layer to this challenge is the cultural stigma and barriers that prevent Somali youth from reporting their mental health concerns. Fearing potential alienation or religious pushback, many would rather tough out their feelings and forge ahead, adding invisible chains to the resilience that once carried them across borders.

To combat this silent storm, we need a relentless, multifaceted approach. Tailored mental health outreach programs, culturally sensitive interventions, and increased accessibility to services are our weapons against the barriers that perpetuate untreated depression. This battle demands unity between policymakers, healthcare providers and the community — an investment in mental health infrastructure and educational initiatives to destigmatize these crucial discussions. Specifically, I truly believe the University community holds the potential to drive change, as they are those policymakers and healthcare providers — if not now, soon.

I passionately advocate for the expansion of Minnesota’s School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs). The urgency of their immediate intervention within the familiar school environment cannot be ignored. These centers offer a sanctuary for students grappling with mental health challenges, breaking cultural barriers that often shroud these discussions in silence. However, I acknowledge the limitations of mental health education alone as we tread this emotional battlefield. Its impact is delayed, and cultural sensitivity can become a hurdle, especially within communities like Somali youth. The answer lies in a balanced approach, intertwining the immediacy of SBHCs with ongoing education, creating a symphony of support.

In this land of dreams, the first prayer must be a resounding plea for health, encompassing the intertwining of physical and mental well-being. By prioritizing the mental health of immigrant youth, University community members stand united in ensuring that the dreams woven into the fabric of our nation include the fundamental right to comprehensive health — a rallying cry that echoes through the silent storms of their struggles. 

Ifrah Abshir (she/hers), a Somali immigrant, is currently a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Aspiring to become a PhD researcher, she focuses on leveraging data for equitable policy change, with a specific interest in improving health outcomes for Somali immigrants. Recognized as a social justice advocate and humanitarian since 15, Ifrah aims to live with a servant-leader framework and leave the world better than when she entered it. 

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  • Jayne
    Dec 18, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    A true call to action and introspection by all stakeholders. The African immigrant grapples with so many challenges, visible and invisible, and mental health struggles are definitely way on top of the list.
    We all need to do better for our immigrant youth, and yes, the first port of call is addressing their health need holistically.

  • aisha
    Dec 15, 2023 at 8:11 am

    Truly a great read. Action needs to take place!