The journey of an asylum seeker is one filled with peril and risk, spanning continents, difficulties and, often, traumatic events. From the turmoil of their countries of origin to the looming threats of persecution, violence and detention, these people embark on a perilous quest to find safety in our towns and cities. Despite the complexities of the U.S. immigration system and the U.S. government being unable to fulfill its promise of resettling the refugees who have waited in camps overseas for years, desperation propels these asylum seekers. As they finally reach Maine, it is imperative that their mental well-being takes precedence.

In the effort to secure housing and establish themselves in a new environment, their psychological well-being often goes overlooked. The housing process may be long and complicated, but addressing the asylum seekers’ mental health issues is a slightly easier step to take.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at

A first step is informing asylum seekers about the mental health resources available because many remain uninformed. That is a societal responsibility. We can all help by educating ourselves and spreading that understanding. Even organizing an informational event is a step that remains to be taken.

But the larger responsibility lies with the state and with local nonprofit organizations. They must actively engage in providing timely mental health assessments and treatment to all asylum seekers, whatever their legal status or resources. Even those who migrate to Maine under more favorable circumstances, armed with resources and legal documentation, often find themselves in need of mental health evaluation and support. I have seen the power of therapy and mental health resources in easing my own transition to life here. Seeking that support was crucial to my success at college and adjusting to Maine and finding jobs, even if it took some years.

The ordeals that asylum seekers endure may be beyond the full comprehension of most Americans. Days and nights of arduous travel, shadowed by the persistent presence of unpredictability. Their reception is often tainted by hostility and political maneuvering as they are shuffled across states on buses. For these newcomers, including young children, there is no respite upon reaching Maine. Their futures dangle in a state of limbo, facing long government backlogs. The stark reality is that many may not undergo their asylum interviews until the distant horizon of 2024 or beyond, highlighting the extended temporal framework of this challenging process.

Even the simple act, for example, of transitioning from the shelter at the Expo in Portland to temporary lodgings can trigger a resurgence of post-traumatic stress disorder, emphasizing the need for immediate mental health resources.

It is incumbent upon local organizations and immigrant leaders to champion the cause of mental health for these asylum seekers during these difficult times. Collaborating with clinicians and health care professionals, they must spearhead efforts to facilitate mental health support.

The task of prioritizing the mental health of Maine’s asylum seekers necessitates a confluence of compassion and collective action. By acknowledging the trauma underlying their stories and advocating for their mental well-being, we can pave the way for a more inclusive, empathetic and supportive society. As these individuals navigate the complexities of a new life, let us extend a helping hand, one that offers not just shelter and sustenance, but also the vital balm of mental health care. In doing so, we uphold the values of humanity and solidarity that define our great state.

Comments are not available on this story.