Fadumo Ibrahim sat down with us to talk about her role as a case manager with CMHA Toronto’s Rehabilitation Action Program (RAP), which is supported by the United Way Greater Toronto. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What is the Rehabilitation Action Program?
The Rehabilitation Action Program is culturally and linguistically focused community-based case management. It’s for people living with serious mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia.
We started with two communities in 1999: the Somali and Tamil communities. Both include refugees from war-torn countries. Many of these people weren’t making use of the services available to them. When we started talking to them, we learned that other mental health service providers weren’t understanding their culture. We make a point to speak to them in their own language. Now we offer services in Afghan, Tamil and Somali.
How is the Rehabilitation Action Program different?
We found that by speaking their language and understanding their culture, we’re able to better connect with our clients. They are skeptical of so many things. There is still so much stigma. But if you speak their language and understand their culture, you have a better chance of building trust and overcoming that stigma.
We also work with their families to help them understand their loved one’s mental health challenges.
When a client’s family understands, and is supportive, it makes all the difference.
We have five case managers on the RAP team. Three speak Tamil, one speaks Afghan, and one speaks Somali.
When did you start working for CMHA Toronto?
I started working with CMHA Toronto as a case manager in 1999. Back in Somalia, I was an elementary school teacher. I came here as a refugee and, luckily, I spoke English. I was able to go back to school and study social services at George Brown College. My first year out of school I worked at a settlement agency and then I came to CMHA Toronto and have been here ever since.
What’s an average day in your life as a case manager?
No two days are the same. The people who come to us aren’t well. Our goal is to stabilize them and help educate them about mental illness and their medication. We meet them where they are, whether that is going for a walk in the park, meeting them at their home with their family, or in a community meeting place like their mosque or a settlement agency.
We speak to all our clients weekly and see them all at least once every other week. Sometimes we see them more if they need it. Each case manager works with up to 20 clients at a time. Right now, I’m working with 19 clients.
What is some feedback you’ve heard from clients?
The whole community is really thankful, families are thankful. They appreciate the support that CMHA Toronto is giving them. So many never knew they could have a mental illness and be well. In so many cultures, you are either ‘crazy’ or you are well. They never knew that you could get well. Now they do.
Now our clients are our best advocates. They refer others in the community to us as they see the value in our work.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about mental health?
I wish people knew mental illness is like any other illness. When they are talking about their medication, it’s like any other medication. Like diabetes. You can maintain your illness like diabetes, you take your medication, and you can live your life. I wish mental illness did not have the stigma that it has because there are supports available.