Cultural shock and Depression in the U.S. Ethiopian community


By Hiyawkal Gizachew

The things that people value in their life really depend upon many cultural factors. For example, age, family, education, religion, nationality, and personal experiences will influence the things we hold dear. Our identities are formed in our culture. It then stands to reason, that migrating to a different culture may cause someone a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Culture Shock is a term used to describe the stress and anxiety one experiences in a new culture. An individual may be forced to learn a new language and {www:assimilate}. In addition, they may find that some of their own deeply held values may not be equally important to their new host culture. Growing up in Ethiopia, “good girl” qualities included being shy, conservative, and soft-spoken. However, in American culture, the same qualities can be mistaken for a lack of confidence and self-esteem. Young women who transition from Ethiopian culture to American culture may experience culture shock. If their values do not line up with their new environment they may feel like they are forced to choose.

Most people came to America looking for a better life for themselves and their families, some who are well educated and successful in their careers in Ethiopia. Upon arrival in America, they realize that the picture perfect image that media painted was far from the truth. That dream of a country where poverty doesn’t exist and where people reach success with little hard work is not the reality of America. Most people, no matter how well educated or how experienced, will have to start all over again. People who are willing to work hard for success may still face language barriers, value conflicts, and discrimination. The combination of these obstacles and culture shock can cause people to experience sadness, loneliness, anger, and frustration. These feelings bring about anxiety and stress and our thoughts and behaviors are affected.

We all go through ups and downs in our lives. This is a normal reaction to life’s struggles and disappointments. However, if sadness persist too long or impacts daily functioning, it might be a sign of depression. Possible symptoms of depression are as follows: sleeping too much or too little, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless and helpless, having negative thoughts, eating too much or too little, or irritability. Negative thoughts about oneself will impact behaviors. People’s thoughts (cognitions, self-statements, beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and schemata) can be distorted. Because of the busy lifestyle in America, having time to talk about our stress with family or friends is difficult to achieve. In some situations people hardly see or talk to the people they live with because of busy work schedules.

Having a counselor will provide clients with the necessary resources and healthy coping skills to deal with the depression, anxiety, and stress. Counselors will provide clients with information on the connection between their thoughts and feelings. They can help the client identify distorted thoughts, examine the validity of their perceptions, and replace faulty thoughts with beneficial thoughts.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms they should seek help and consider talking with a professional counselor. It is essential for people to understand that experiencing depression and seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is the key to a happier life.

(Hiyawkal Gizachew, Mental Health Counselor at Northern Virginia Family Service, can be reached at hgizachew@nvfs.org)


15 thoughts on “Cultural shock and Depression in the U.S. Ethiopian community

  1. Anonymous on

    I went to see a counselor once and the counselor fall asleep as I was talking to her and I never went back to see that fat counselor or another one again. In fact, I got more depressed after that visit, knowing that I am also boring.

  2. well depression is rampant in our society .we should campaign to increase awerness.we all go through it once in our life sometimes more than once.
    education is the key specially in our mother language.
    as we all know language is the main barrier

    i advice the writer to traslate and post it in amharic.

  3. Dorch on

    comment no2,

    I am laughing to my burst! I can trust you because most counsellors are the ones who have been through the same situation. Therefore, the fat person you saw may well have gone through the episode. Most depressed people are too fat or too thin, too asleep or too awake. Do not stop seeing those people who would share you from their immense expriencs..

    Good luck

  4. Tesfa on

    Very important topic for all migrant communities that is not addressed sufficiently.

    Thanks

  5. Anonymous on

    You know what Dorch, that fat counselor was fast asleep and she wouldn’t have known it, if I’ve gotten up and opened the door and left. I was thinking to get up and leave and slammed the door shut and scare the heck out of her, but I didn’t. I just sat there and watch her rocking her neck back and forth for a few minutes. My depression had nothing to do with cultural shock. Half the people I used to work with were seeking counseling because of deadline demand and work related stress. Instead of easing the tension and do something about the deadlines, the Co. used to encourage employees to take advantages of the counseling service they used to provide. I used to say, one of these days some nut going to bring a loaded gun and shoot everybody in that Co. I am thankful that I’m out of that place now.
    People need to know that, there are bad counselors out there enough to cause more depression. Without giving up, People need to find counselor they like and comfortable with.

  6. Babula Bola on

    Are you guys trying to make us depressed? No way! we are very successful and cooperative, we have no time for such schiztofrinic ideas!!!

  7. Anonymous on

    Babula Bola,
    Well, congratulations that you’re successful and don’t have any kind of stress. Extremely confident and arrogant people are unsympathetic and see depression as weakness and most often they are the one who causes headaches and stress on other employees.

  8. GEDION -NASHVILLE,TN on

    excuse me Mr.First person published on this page YOU ARE WRONG 1~sadness, tearfulness, crying, frequently showing pervasive sadness by wearing black clothes, writing poetry with morbid themes, or having a preoccupation with music that has nihilistic themes. Also, crying for no apparent reason= Depression

    2~hopelessness feeling that life is not worth living or worth the effort to even maintain their appearance or hygiene. They may believe that a negative situation will never change and be pessimistic about their future=Depression

    3~less interest in activities; or not enjoying previously favorite activities dropping out of clubs, sports, and other activities. Not much seems fun anymore=Depression

    4~persistent boredom; low energy Lack of motivation and lowered energy level is reflected by missed classes or not going to school. A drop in grade averages can be equated with loss of concentration and slowed thinking= Depression

    5~social isolation, poor communication lacking connection with friends and family. avoiding family gatherings and events. Teens who used to spend a lot of time with friends may now spend most of their time alone and without interests. not sharing feelings with others, believing that you are alone in the world and no one is listening to you or even cares about you=Depression

    6~low self esteem and guilt assuming blame for negative events or circumstances. you may feel like a failure and have negative views about their competence and self-worth. you feel as if you are not “good enough.”= Depression

    7~extreme sensitivity to rejection o…Depression ETHIOPIAN PEOPLE Also they complains about everyyyyyy single thing!AMERICAN & JEWS A place you go to when you realize that life really isn’t that great.
    -Family member dies. = Depression
    -Pet dies. = Depression
    -Best friend betrays you. = Depression
    -Income tax. = Depression
    -Losing to a full house while flushing. = Depression
    -“Sorry sir, we don’t have anymore tomatoes”. = Depression
    -“Perfect girl” reveals her true self. = Depression
    -Keg has just been kicked. = Depression
    -You’re hungry, but you’re broke. = Depression
    -There is a cannabis drought. = Depression
    -Monday. If you work 9-5, 5 days a week. = Depression
    -Sunday night. If you work 9-5, 5 days a week. = Depression
    -Whatever happens after you graduate from college. = Depression
    -Credit Card. = Depression (after a while)
    -4:30am and you just ran out of beer. = Depression
    -They also complains about not having enough money but turns around and spends money on pointless things. They are also downers=DEPRESSION
    – The feeling of being dead/empty inside with nowhere to turn Generally caused by one of the opposite sex =DEPRESSION
    -What I’m going through right now using the above reason why i take to alcohol, depression is crap Firstly, depression is NOT a disease GOOD BYE

  9. Anonymous on

    its very interesting and well said article and we thank you for sharing. One thing I would like to make a note is that even though you talked about depression and gave a good indicators of this disorder I think it is important to jump to quickly to diagnose them with depression. when people hear about depression they assume the worst. we have to pay special attention especially when there is culture difference…. maybe we can start with adjustment and allow them to process and understand it that it is not uncommon and happens to anyone who lives their country or loved ones…. I guess my comment is as a fellow counselor we have to pay special attention for culture difference and not jump into diagnosing individual and create more panic.

  10. According to Donald Levin up to the mid 1970s Ethiopia was among the countries with the least immigrants in foreign countries. We are told that in the Haile Selassie era students sent abroad were so eager to return home that they could not wait for award ceremonies so that their degrees and diplomas had to be sent to Ethiopia long after they had arrived home.
    Since the late 1970s things changed and Ethiopians started leaving their country in large numbers. Undoubtly the woyane era since 1991 is the worst time for Ethiopians to live in foreign countries. Not only because it is,even unlike the Mengistu regime, an anti-Ethiopian regime and works against the country but also because of the negative propaganda it generates or let western NGOs generate in Ethiopia, often in relation with charity and disasters.That of course has negative effects on those Ethiopians living abroad and how they are treated there. So the problem is not just cultural shock as it was during the Haile Selassie and Mengistu eras. You have a regime in Ethiopia that is making life harder for Ethiopians abroad. Funny, other governments make their citizens’ lives abroad easier.

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