Young women 'Changing the Narrative' of addiction in Somali community

The opioid epidemic has been raging in this country for a few years now. Four young people say it's having a major and underreported impact on their community, and they want to do something about it.

The young women came up with the idea while they were in the same college psychology class last year. After one of them did a presentation on mental health and addiction in the Somali community, they decided to do something to make a difference.

"We are extremely excited,” said Ayan Mohamed, the director of Changing The Narrative. “We've put a lot of work into this for the last 3 to 4 months."

In a community where sharing stories is a treasured tradition, a group of young people is changing the narrative about a growing problem.

"It’s extremely taboo because of our culture and religion,” said Mohamed. “It’s something that's completely overlooked. People just pretend it doesn't happen in our community."

Four current and former students at Metro State University put together a workshop on addiction in Minnesota's East African population.

They say many elders don't acknowledge the impact the opioid epidemic is having on local Somalis, particularly young men. 

“I think we all know someone who has struggled with addiction, and I think that's why it’s such a personal topic for all of us," said Maryam Omar of Changing The Narrative.

The goal is to connect members of the community to mental health professionals and addiction counselors who look like them and can get their friends, family members and neighbors with chemical dependency issues the help they need.

"Half our staff are Somali,” said Yussuf Shafie of Alliance Wellness Center. “We understand the way the culture works. We focus a lot on historical trauma and the civil war and what has happened."

They hope that Changing The Narrative will help write a happier ending for the entire community. 

"It's an eye-opening for the community because there's been a lot of deaths and no one wants to talk about it," said Asha Ahmed of Changing the Narrative.

"We do want this attention,” said Omar. “We do want to make a difference in the Somali community."

The organizers hope to make this an annual event focusing on a different issue facing the Somali community every year.