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Resettlement Agencies Team With County To Enhance Access to Culturally Sensitive Screening and Followup for Arriving Refugees at Risk of Mental Health Problems

August 14, 2013

Community mental health agencies in the Seattle, WA, area that work with refugees partnered with the county health department (Public Health – Seattle & King County) and a researcher to implement Pathways to Wellness, a program that identifies and provides appropriate treatment to arriving refugees at high risk of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress. The program employs a culturally tailored, 15-question screening tool used by a health department nurse to quickly assess whether arriving refugees are experiencing mental health symptoms. Refugees who score above a predetermined threshold receive a referral to the Pathways program, which connects them with a mental health counselor who completes a formal assessment and diagnosis and, if necessary, provides treatment. In a pilot test with 251 refugees, the program enhanced access to mental health services for at-risk refugees, with 30 percent of those screened testing positive for significant distress and roughly 70 percent of these individuals subsequently being connected with a counselor. In the absence of this program, many refugees with mental health problems likely would not have received treatment or would have done so only when their condition significantly worsened.