Road to Resettlement

When you’re part of a war, part of the war gets inside you, Martha Baird has learned from working with South Sudanese refugees.

Baird, assistant professor of psychiatric nursing, is researching ways to provide mental health support to these refugees — some of whom have witnessed multiple wars.

Of the more than 20,000 refugees who have fled to the United States from South Sudan, about 2,000 have resettled in Kansas City. Most are women and children.

In Kansas and Missouri, the primary health focus for refugees has been monitoring for infectious disease. “That gives you an idea of how our society views and treats immigrant populations,” Baird says.

“My goal is to empower this group to heal themselves and their own communities,” Baird says. So last spring, as a part of a research study, Baird launched a 10-week intervention program that included counseling, guided imagery, yoga, and prayer — all community-based and culturally adapted to meet the needs of the Sudanese women who participated.

To prescreen study participants for anxiety and depression, Baird used the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25, which she and one of the women translated into Dinka, a tribal language in South Sudan. When the study concluded, she administered the test again, certain she would see a decrease in participants' symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Instead, the scores went up.

Baird now believes the contradictory results actually indicated positive change.

Some of the women didn’t realize that lying in bed all day was a sign of depression, or they didn’t know what “feeling blue” meant. “The test itself became an intervention,” Baird says. “It gave them the tools to identify symptoms of mental illness in themselves and in others.”

With that knowledge comes the power to heal, Baird says. You can’t remove the war inside you until you realize it’s there.


“I'm researching the strongest, most resilient population I've ever been in the same room with.”
— Martha Baird


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