What To Do When You’re Blue

Women’s Committee holds workshop on depression

February 23, 2010

“Everybody has it sometimes,” said one of the participants at the Arab American Action Network Women’s Committee February 23 workshop. “It” was depression, the topic of community counselor Faida Sahouri’s presentation for the committee. “Women are alone all the time here”, the participant continued. “Back home, you’d be around your mom and sister and other family. Here you don’t have family, or not close family. Like for me, it’s just my husband and kids.”

Women’s Committee leaders chose depression as the topic because Arab immigrant women in the United States face a number of challenges, as does anyone that moves to a new place far from their culture, family, and friends. “They feel exactly like if we took a plant from one garden and sent it to another place,” says AAAN Associate Director Rasmea Yousef. Many of the Committee’s women came from smaller communities where they lived with many extended family members, and where everyone on the street was familiar. They could go anywhere—to a doctor’s appointment, the store, a restaurant, to have coffee with friends—with ease.

But here the difficulty of navigating unknown streets and areas where English is the primary language renders simple shopping trips confusing. It may take a long time for recent immigrants to feel comfortable and familiar with their surroundings in the United States and to begin to identify the Arab community and form relationships within it. Raising children in the U.S.—who are exposed to a very different culture than that of their parents—also  creates a large gap between mothers and their children, providing further fodder for sadness. “We feel Arab women are strong,” says Yousef, “They have talents and skills that we help them realize. Our goal is to encourage them to be active, first in their home with their family and then in their community and society. This workshop helps them understand the challenges they face and learn how to deal with them.”

Sahouri, who got her Master’s in community counseling in November, encouraged women to do something for themselves to maintain emotional health, like going to classes, workshops, the gym, restaurants with friends, or reading books, praying, or anything else they enjoy. “But if you feel depressed and it lasts for more than two months,” Sahouri said, “you should get help.” She mentioned that depression is significantly more common in women than in men, and that it can be genetic. Treating depression can include therapy, but for some people therapy isn’t enough, she said, in which case there are a variety of medicines that help. “It’s good to know that other people are going through the same thing,” said a participant. “It makes you feel normal.”

Sahouri, a Bloomingdale native and member of the Arab community, spoke to the cultural context of Arab American women and immigrants. She made it clear that feeling depressed is not something to feel bad about, that it is especially common for women feeling uprooted and finding themselves in a foreign land and culture. Her aim, she says, is for the women to “learn to protect themselves and to be resilient in facing every-day problems, and—when resilience runs out and depression persists—“to help themselves and their friends and relatives.”

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