Changing the lives of Refugees at Harmony Place

MARIAN JOSEPH

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Last year 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their home countries as a result of persecution, conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations.

Of 65.3 million, 21.3 million were refugees. Imagine, almost the entirety of Australia’s population being forcibly displaced.

In 2015, only 107,051 refugees were resettled. That is 0.66% of the world’s total refugees.
According to the Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s intake in 2015 was 8.8% of 0.66% of total refugees, that is 9,399 people, 2171 people less than 2014.

Accepting refugees into Australia is one thing, seeing them to integrate and start a new life here is another. These are people who had fled their countries in fear as a result of actions of war and conflict, they may have spent years moving between places or in refugee camps, suffering from poor nutrition and other health problems as a consequence. They may have lost family members along the way, been subjected to traumas as a result of fleeing and are forced to live in fear. Fear of never finding a pace to call home, a place for a new beginning.

How can we sit here on our comfy couches, in front of our televisions, on our laptops, and read this article and even begin to imagine what some of these people have been through.

Imagine the emotional, physical and mental strains some of those experiences would have on the human body. Even if some refugees are lucky enough to get the opportunity to begin a new life in Australia, that doesn’t mean their pasts disappear, they still have those experiences and memories of life before Australia. There are enormous mental health problems within the refugee community in Australia and it is no wonder why.

Harmony Place is a non-government community-based organisation that provides services to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of the community, specifically people from diverse cultural and language backgrounds. They specifically work with refugees and migrants who struggle with mental health problems and also provide services and activities that support people experiencing emotional distress and help them to avoid social isolation as a new member of Australian society.

Teneille Arundale is the Service Manager at Harmony Place and is in charge of managing the different services and programs as they relate to allied health (including mental health) services targeted at the culturally and linguistically diverse population at Harmony Place.                       resizedimage259183-harmony-place

Teneille feels that mental health in refugees is often a topic that is overlooked by the media and public and that a lot of people may not be aware of the experiences that refugees and migrants go through to get here and begin a new life.

“It is a topic of great importance, these are people who have had some horrific experiences in their lives so of course there are going to be some repercussions in the way of mental health, and it is something that the average Australian probably doesn’t realise because they haven’t had those experiences or even heard the stories of those who have been through them,” Teneille said.

“The important thing to do is to raise awareness of the problem of mental health so that people are more aware, one of Harmony Place’s focuses is to increase people’s awareness and understanding of mental health issues and break down the stigma around mental illness in the hope that people will gain the confidence to seek help.”

It is not just the past experiences of refugees that may cause mental health problems or emotional distress, it can also be problems they face after coming to Australia, such as language barriers, social isolation, loss of family and support networks and unemployment or lack of recognition of qualifications.

Harmony Place offers a range of program and activities that are designed to support and empower refugees and to help them to make connections with others to improve their emotional wellbeing and feelings of belonging in Australia.

“We have support groups, counselling services, intervention and prevention programs, and mentoring programs in partnership with multicultural communities, service providers, government agencies and the private sector to empower people to proactively care for their mental health and wellbeing,” Teneille said.

“Conversational English classes, women’s support groups, art classes and the youth peer mentoring program are some of the initiatives that encourage people from different cultures and backgrounds to get acquainted and form friendships and offer support to each other. The programs have proved to be a great way for refugees to improve their wellbeing and emotional health while settling into life in Australia.”

Teneille commented on the outcomes of these programs saying there has been amazing improvements in people who have embraced the support available and responded to the help provided by the people at Harmony Place.

“It is amazing to see how people, especially those who are reluctant to accept support at the beginning can develop and come so far in their health and wellbeing, it is so humbling to be able to be a part of helping refugee and migrants in need and bettering their lives after being settled in Australia,” she said.

Visit the Harmony Place website http://www.harmonyplace.org.au/ for more information on what they do.

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