Afghan-American Mental Wellness


One of the recurring themes that arise during the weekend of our Conferences is mental health. The importance of mental health is often threaded through our keynotes, SEED Talks, sessions, and panels.

As our community bands together to move forward, one stigmatized yet present challenge is maintaining mental wellness both for our loved ones and us. The following will provide an evolving resource for brief information on mental health disorders and symptoms, treatment, and where to find help. Please use the information on this website as purely informational. Nothing here is meant for diagnostic or treatment purposes, only as a guide to finding professional help. Please contact with questions or concerns. Lastly, if you or a loved one is going through a crisis in which the safety of yourself or others is potentially compromised, please present to the nearest emergency room for formal psychiatric evaluation.



  • Risk factors:

    • Internalizing factors: genetics, neurotic personality, anxiety, prior depressive episodes

    • Externalizing factors: poor parental upbringing (emotional, physical abuse), poor self esteem, low social support (family, friends, community), substance abuse

    • Adversity: relational issues, stressful life events, traumatic experiences

  • Symptoms:

    • Depressed mood, feeling “down”, more than 50% of the time

    • Anhedonia; meaning, little interest in things that previously brought pleasure, lack of motivation to do things

    • Decreased or increased sleep

    • Feelings of guilt that are excessive

    • Decreased energy

    • Poor ability to concentrate on tasks

    • Increased or decreased appetite

    • Moving very slowly or inability to sit still (pacing, fidgeting)

    • Suicidal ideations or thoughts of suicide

  • Treatment: (please see resources section to find local provider)

    • Psychotherapy, “talk therapy”

      • Different therapy modalities (or combinations of a few) to help with depressive symptoms.

      • Please refer to resources section to find local mental health providers.

    • Medications

      • Different medication classes with different side effect profiles.

      • Please talk to your physician or mental health provider to discuss different options and if these options may be helpful to you.

      • Refer to resources section for help finding provider.


  • Excess worry, preoccupation with unknown future events causing distress

  • Can manifest in both psychological symptoms and physical symptoms (much like depression)

  • Psychological symptoms

    • Racing mind

    • Difficulty concentrating

    • Mind “going blank”

    • Irritability

  • Physical symptoms

    • Muscle tension, “on edge”

    • Sleep disturbances; unable to “turn the mind off” at night

    • Easily fatigued

    • Upset stomach

    • Headaches

  • Treatment  

    • Psychotherapy, “talk therapy”

      • Different therapy modalities to help with symptoms of anxiety.

    • Medications

      • Different medication classes with different side effect profiles.

      • Please talk to your physician or mental health provider to discuss different options and if these options may be helpful to you.

      • Refer to resources section for help finding provider.

Substance Abuse

  • Mental distress can often lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including self medication with substances (alcohol, cannabis, opiates, cocaine, ect). This substance misuse can exacerbate mental distress and even lead to depressive and sometimes, psychotic symptoms. It is instrumental, when seeking treatment, to treat both the mental health symptoms as well as the co-occurring substance use.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Psychopathological impact of trauma has been long recognized

  • Multitude of different types of trauma

    • Witnessed or experienced

    • Experiencing trauma

    • First responders

    • Learning of traumatic experience to loved one

  • Life is hard: Witnessing something considered to be traumatic is the rule rather than the exception. However, developing PTSD from trauma is the exception, rather than the rule.

    • It is estimated ~10% of people who have experienced trauma develop PTSD, however, greater than 50% of population has experienced “trauma”.

  • Symptoms

    • Recurrent, intrusive memories of traumatic events, “flash-backs”

    • Recurrent, intrusive nightmares/dreams of traumatic event s

    • Avoidance of things that remind victim of trauma

    • Negative mood, inexperience to positive emotions, guilt, detachment to others

    • Increased startle response, hyper-vigilance

  • Treatment

    • Psychotherapies

    • Medication (considered less effective than therapies for PTSD)

Treatment Modalities:

  • Supportive Therapy

    • Active listening

    • Supports existing defense mechanisms

    • Therapist acts to enhance self-esteem of patient

    • Easy to do, shown to be effective in variety of situations

  • Mindfulness

    • A method to decrease anxiety, improve mood, and becoming “in the moment”

    • Lifestyle that bodies a loving, intentional, embodied presence

      • Loving: being kind to yourself and others, cultivating compassion

      • Intentional: actions done one purpose

      • Embodied: a consciousness of how your physical and mental feelings coexist with each other

      • Presence: being in the moment, “the now”, letting go of the past and releasing expectations for the future

    • Example exercise:

      • Sit upright in chair, feet on the ground, head balanced on your neck, with your eyes closed or relaxed to a downward gaze.

      • Begin to pay attention to you body, noticing bodily sensations

        • the  touch of your feet on the floor, the weight of your body in the chair

        • Your emotions and feelings, allowing your thoughts to arise and pass away

      • Focus on your breathing

        • Breath deeply, noticing the air coming into your body and the air exiting your body

        • Say a mantra

          • A phrase to be repeated on each inhale and exhale

          • Ie: “I am here” *inhale*, “And I am safe” *exhale*

      • Repeat for 10-15 breaths, paying attention to your breath and centering yourself back to your breath and mantra as thoughts, feelings, and emotions arise and pass.