Men’s mental health and wellness

Hamid is a 30-year-old male, born in the United States. He studied engineering at university. Though he faced many challenges in his education and life, Hamid always persevered because he was taught that as the oldest son in his family, he had to be the best and always be strong. Being the eldest of five siblings, Hamid took on a lot of responsibility to support his parents and family. Hamid was taught that boys are tough, strong, independent, and do not show weakness. Hamid learned this through the messages he received from society about how a boy becomes a man.

Let’s explore Hamid’s life and how he shifts from the expectations of society and how he can overcome the challenges he faces.

5-year-old Hamid

Hamid’s experience: As a young boy, Hamid was shy and reserved. He did not talk much, but instead, buried himself in drawing and reading.

During recess, he was not interested in playing sports, but would sit back and draw or read.

little black boy sits on a bench reading a stack of books nexts to him

Impact of Societal Norms on Hamid: Because society teaches us that boys are rowdy, Hamid’s parents worried that their son was not “normal”. They would compare him to their friend’s sons, and say “Hamid, why don’t you go run and play with the boys”, or “get out of those books”.

The other boys in Hamid’s class would tell him to play football with the boys. He would hear negative messages about reading from his male classmates.

kids playing soccer

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid started internalizing that he is a boy and should run around, be rowdy and have lots of energy. He began to struggle between doing what he loves—reading and drawing— and wanting to please his parents. Hamid began thinking that to fit in with his male classmates, he had to play sports during recess or else they would not like him.

10-year-old Hamid

boy mowing lawn

Hamid’s experience: As Hamid got older, he continued facing similar challenges. At this point, his parents asked him to take on more responsibilities so he began a part-time job mowing lawns for neighbors. Hamid also helped his siblings with their schoolwork, often mediated their problems, and always showed up as the “strong older brother”. Everyone could depend on him.  

teen with short hair and green jacket looks at camera

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that it was normal for young boys to take all this responsibility even if it was too much to handle. He never felt safe sharing his feelings with anyone because he was afraid of being seen as “weak”.

Additionally, he learned that boys are to be strong. Hamid takes on the role of “hero”—always being able to support others and be a shoulder to lean on. But he learned not to ask others for support or burden them with his problems.

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid never complained or expressed that the responsibility was too much for him. He did as he was told without conveying how it affected him. He had a hard time recognizing his own emotions and expressing them.

15-year-old Hamid

teen boy in jeans and t-shirt sits on fence

Hamid’s experience: Hamid is now in high school. This is a very sensitive time because his body is changing and he is figuring out his identity in this world. Yet, nobody talked to him about the changes he is going through. His mom said to him, “Oh, what a handsome man you are becoming” as he started to grow facial hair. Many of his friends went to the gym daily to build muscle. Hamid’s dad, uncles and friends kept encouraging him to join the football team even though he wanted to join the art club.

teen in black t-shirt against dark background looking down at cell phone

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that boys transitioning into men are expected to be seen as muscular, tall, and handsome. They are supposed to be seen as strong both mentally and physically.

He continued to learn that art is not for boys and that he needs to be more athletic to be a “real” man.

man in shorts and t-shirt lifts weights in gym

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid did not “bulk up” his muscles as much as his friends, and dealt with the pressure of wanting to look more muscular. To fit in, Hamid started working out at the gym with his friends. Additionally, he shut himself down from expressing his feelings. He continued to be a support for others, while often feeling that his needs, interests, and feelings are not seen and not heard. He began to shut himself off from what he loves, and had to cope with the loneliness it brings.

20-year-old Hamid

man next to a woman sits on sofa holding face in his hands

Hamid’s experience: In college, Hamid wanted to study art and literature, but shifted to engineering because his parents though it was a more dependable career. He got excellent marks on his exams and made his parents proud. They encouraged him to find an engineering internship to start his career.

His mom also wanted him to get married, but he struggled to make deep connections with his friends and was not interested in anyone in particular.

Instead, Hamid focused on starting his career.

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that men are supposed to be the provider and protector of others. Their status in society is usually determined by their career, earnings, and opportunities for promotion. Their status is about what they do rather than who they are as people with unique interests, strengths, and character. He also learned that to be considered successful, he should marry a woman and have children.

two men in hard hats review plans on construction site

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid believes that he should work on securing an internship at a major corporation and focus on developing his engineering skills. He tells himself that as he becomes more stable in his career, he will eventually find a wife and settle down. He doesn’t think too much about that process or make the effort he will need to successfully find a partner. He has transformed from himself into the mask that everyone expects of him.

30-year-old Hamid

man in grey suit jacket and red tie stands confidently looking up to up and to the right

Hamid’s experience: Hamid is now successful in his career, married and is now thinking to start a family. Everything seems to be going alright.

Suddenly, his dad passes away. Overcome with grief, Hamid does not know how to handle it. He is not able to focus on his work anymore, and sometimes he lashes out at his wife. Everything around him starts to spiral out of control.

six individuals in black stand somberly around a casket that has flowers on top

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Because Hamid was successful in his career, everyone assumed he was doing well, including himself. There was no acknowledgement from his friends or family about the sacrifices he made to become a lead engineer, the support his wife has given to him, or the other life challenges he faced. Instead, Hamid was constantly praised for being “the guy who has it all”. Everyone around him constantly praises how he can do it all.

Hamid’s loss goes unseen as he is expected to be the strong one for his mom and siblings. When he tears up during the funeral, one uncle tells him, “Hamid don’t cry. Be strong for your mom”.

young man with head in hands dark background

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid believed that he should be able to do everything without help. Even though his wife had supported him a lot early in his career, he failed to acknowledge this.

Now facing his father’s death, Hamid doesn’t have the skills he needs to thoroughly and openly process this experience. He is overtaken by sadness and does not know how to cope.

Hamid makes the brave call to seek out counseling. He reached out to a grief counselor who began working with him to break down the societal messages he received throughout his life and created a safe environment for him to recognize and process his emotions.

50-year-old Hamid

4 young black boys standing together smiling at camera

Hamid’s experience: Now, with every new challenge or difficulty Hamid faces, he can navigate it with more ease utilizing the tools he has learned in therapy. He has started mentoring young boys at the town center on how they can learn to express themselves and encourages each of them to follow their interests.

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Though society continuously taught Hamid that he had to be strong and stoic, he has broken that norm and has learned to be more expressive.

He is not afraid to be vulnerable, or share his feelings and emotions with his wife, family, friends, and the youth he mentors at the town center. He shows them that recognizing emotions and sharing them is strong. This has made his relationship with his wife stronger and more satisfying.

view of man from behind stands in a field at sunset

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Now that Hamid has broken the norms of how society expects men to be, he feels freer and is more comfortable with sharing his emotions. He feels more alive and engaged in the world.

He is engaged in art and literature again and has incorporated it into his daily life.

Hamid is breaking the norms he faced growing up.

He is modeling for other males in the community how to find balance between oneself and others, without losing himself.  

Photos licensed from Creative Commons.

Support the well-being of boys and men:

  • Empathize:
    •  When we encourage men to share their feelings and experiences and be vulnerable, we can build stronger connections. By letting them know that we will make the effort to understand them, and share honestly ourselves, we give them a safe space to explore and feel supported.
  • Challenge outdated stereotypes about men and masculinity:
    • A common norm in society is that men should suppress their emotions. They are expected to be problem-solvers and be logical in every situation. Let’s challenge that in our homes, schools, and local communities. Encourage boys and men to express their feelings, and encourage them to explore activities, careers, or tasks that are often seen as feminine. Many boys will someday become fathers and need to practice parenting, so let them play with the doll.
  • Develop deep and meaningful connections with them:
    • A major way to help our boys and men is working with them to develop good communication skills. When they can express themselves better, it helps us understand what they are experiencing, and it helps them understand us better, too. This helps us develop deeper connections as we continue to understand each other better.
  • Build on their unique strengths, rather than the strengths society places on them:
    • Identify the strengths in the men around you and help them find their strengths. Allow them grace for not always having the characteristics that are expected of them by society.
  • Normalize seeking counseling:
    • Hamid made the brave decision to seek counseling when he felt overtaken by the grief. This counseling supported his growth in understanding himself better and expressing himself to others. We can transform our lives if we make our mental health as important as our physical health.

Contact ReWA

  • ReWA’s Center for Social Emotional Wellbeing can help. Contact us at CSEWIntakes@rewa.org or email MohammadS@rewa.org or call Mohammad Hamid Safi at (206) 423-7310.

Supporting the Women in your Life

Opportunities for women and overall gender equality have increased substantially in recent years, but significant barriers still exist. Barriers, such as, gender-based violence, unequal pay, and limitations in education and political power prevent many women from using all their talents to benefit society. Women all over the world experience life in multitude of ways and not all women are afforded the same opportunities.

Marwa is a 28-year-old doctor, mother and wife. She works at a hospital and is one of the only two female doctors in her department. Let’s travel through one woman’s typical day with Marwa.

Marwa’s Morning

Marwa wakes up at 5:00am, and gets ready for her long day at work. She prays, drinks her coffee with a bagel, prepares breakfast for her husband and kids, and drives to work. She leaves for work before her kids wake up, and this makes her sad. However, she loves being a doctor as well.

Marwa Arrives at Work

Once Marwa arrives at work, she takes a deep breathe and checks in with the nurses on the unit. She gets updates on all her patients she will see for the day, and begins her rounds.


Marwa’s Workday

Within the first hour, she is yelled at by a patient who says, “Women should not be doctors”. Later in her shift, a doctor aggressively questions her diagnosis of a patient. Throughout Marwa’s shift she faces negative comments, yet she continues to support her patients. Although she remains headstrong and positive, it begins to wear down on her. Marwa’s team of nurses, doctors and staff see themselves as a collective and supportive unit. The team uplift and encourage Marwa to tap into her inner strength and she feels confident speaking up for herself. She gathers enough inner strength to finish her shift. She leaves her shift after a long day at 7pm.

Marwa’s Commute

On her drive home, Marwa thinks about all the chores she has to do once she reaches her home. She has to prepare dinner, run the laundry, bathe the kids, and put them to sleep. Marwa’s role as a parent is very important to her and she loves her family deeply. Nonetheless, Marwa is exhausted.

Marwa’s Home

Marwa enters her home, and her beautiful children come running to her. They both instantly tell her about their day. She embraces her kids and hugs them deeply. Her husband then comes and gives her a kiss on the head. After hugging, Marwa goes to the kitchen to start dinner only to realize that her husband has already cooked it. Her husband, Adam, and the kids prepared dinner and set the table for the family to eat together. After dinner, Marwa and her husband load up the dishwasher, bathe the children and put them to sleep. She realizes that she is not alone, and has a strong support system in her husband, children and coworkers. Once everyone is asleep, Marwa takes a small break, drinks relaxing tea, and heads to bed to start it all over the next day.

How can we support the women in our life?

As Other Women: Uplift one another and encourage each other towards growth in life, advocate and speak up with another.

As Men: Listen to the women around you, ask them how you can support them, listen to their stories and struggles, advocate for their rights.

Young Adults: Advocate for women’s rights, take part in community conversations and engagements on topics of equality, Help the women around you.

Children: Help out the women around you, for example, your mom, sisters, grandmothers. Ask mom what you can do to help with chores or tasks.

If you would like to improve your emotional wellness, contact ReWA at csewintakes@rewa.org or fax (425) 955 7877.

New Life Skills curriculum

“Life Skills” help refugees navigate a new culture

For most Americans, paying their utility bill online is pretty routine.

But what if you are a refugee who doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have a bank account, and has never used a computer?

Daily life can be overwhelming. 

To help manage these tasks, ReWA developed the Life Skills curriculum , which covers everything from what is culturally appropriate “small talk” with your neighbor, to making a doctor’s appointment, to paying bills online. The purpose of the curriculum is to help newcomers to the U.S. learn the complex systems many people who grew up here take for granted.

ReWA staff collaborated to create a curriculum for refugees in the Puget Sound, but it is applicable across the country.

An idea long overdue

This project brought together the collective experience of ReWA English teachers and case managers—many of whom moved to the U.S. from other countries. ReWA’s ESL Coordinator, Yuliya Matyushkina, described how ReWA developed the curriculum.

“We gathered together several case managers—many of whom came to the U.S. as refugees themselves—and English teachers and together we brainstormed a list of topics. Then we divided into teams to write and edit and we ended up with nine lesson modules.”  

The nine modules are: Communication in U.S. Culture, Digital Literacy, Education, Financial Literacy, Food and Nutrition, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Workplace Communication. The lessons are offered in two levels: Beginner and Low Intermediate, so can be used in a classroom that has students of different levels.

The nine modules are: Communication in U.S. Culture, Digital Literacy, Education, Financial Literacy, Food and Nutrition, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Workplace Communication.

Many of ReWA’s case managers came to the U.S. as immigrants and refugees. Now they use their wealth of knowledge to help others.

In the classroom

One ReWA ESL teacher, Inga Link, said, “It’s easy to use—and a lot of classroom conversations grow out of the lessons. Just the other day, I taught from the financial literacy module.” She said students brought in the mail they received from their bank so they could learn the difference between bank statements and bank notices. “Other students asked about identify theft and how they can keep themselves safe.”   

ReWA is offering limited in-person classroom where students learn from the new Life Skills curriculum.

ReWA program manager, Gizachew Manahle, said the curriculum was funded by the Washington State Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Manahle himself emigrated from Ethiopia years before and is glad ReWA can offer this resource to their clients, as well as the wider community.

“I wish I had this curriculum when I came here. The systems in the US are very complex, even for the people born here. With this life skills curriculum new arrivals can learn to respond to everyday challenges. And with greater cultural and economic integration, they develop a greater sense of community”.

With the influx of 3,000 Afghan refugees, ReWA is translating the curriculum into Dari and Pashto languages.

With the influx of 3,000 Afghan refugees, ReWA is translating the curriculum into Dari and Pashto languages.

Manahle said, “So far, we have shared the curriculum with dozens of other organizations and colleges across the state, and we hope it will be used nation-wide.”

The Life Skills Curriculum is available online for free download.

GULALEI: A teacher for generations of children

In the 1980s, an Afghan woman named Gulalei Beena and her husband fled the civil war. When her husband died suddenly, she was left with four children to support while living as refugees in Pakistan. Too often the children of uneducated women have to survive on the streets. Their lives are short.

Gulalei means flower in Farsi, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan.
Stock photo of Afghan teacher in a girls classroom.

But Gulalei had finished high school. And she believed in herself.

With some additional training provided by a humanitarian aid organization, she opened a preschool in her home in Peshawar, Pakistan. For almost 20 years, Gulalei educated generations of children. Her son, Mohammad, remembers their home being full of children. “When we would walk down the street and see families of the children in our school, they always said hello. My mother was quite respected in our neighborhood.”

Eventually, Gulalei and her children emigrated to the United Kingdom and the U.S., respectively. She had the joy of seeing her children complete degrees in higher education and start families of their own. She had impacted thousands of lives.

Sadly, her son said the recent events in Afghanistan broke her heart. In late August, Gulalei passed away of a heart attack at her home in England.

Man smiles at camera
Gulalei’s son, Muhammad, is a ReWA case manager helping women and men adjust to life in the Puget Sound.

But her legacy lives on: Her son, Mohammad—who attended her preschool—is now an employment case manager at ReWA. “After my father died when I was young, my mother made a future possible for us. Through education and her community leadership, she changed so many lives.”

“After my father died when I was young, my mother made a future possible for us. Through education and her community leadership, she changed so many lives.”

To this day, Mohammed feels he is following his mother’s example as they helps connect women and men in South King County—many of them newly arrived from Afghanistan— to educational and employment opportunities, just like his mother when they fled decades ago.

New opportunities in healthcare

One by one, students settled into ReWA’s Home Care Aide training classroom in SeaTac one rainy morning last month. They pulled out their study materials and reviewed the supply kit at their table: towels, model dentures, a plastic basin. Many of the immigrants and refugees who come to ReWA for job training have limited English and lack formal employment experience. Most have overcome obstacles: fleeing conflict and war zones or immigrating with their families to find a better life. Some have overcome homelessness.

However, what they all share is a desire to learn new skills and find work to support their families. Also, many have experience caring for family members. For them, the entry-level home care aide work is a great fit: it gives them a chance to improve their English while gaining experience with American work culture.

And now, thanks to a $300,000 grant from KeyBank, ReWA is partnering with Renton Technical College to offer additional training for those who want to go further and train for higher-paying medical roles like pharmacy techs and medical assistants.

Left to right: ReWA staff, Sean Power, Crisann Brooks and Executive Director, Mahnaz Eshetu (front) met with KeyBank’s Corporate Responsibility Officer, Caleb Stephens and President, Matt Hill (far right), November 2021.

Matt Hill, KeyBank President and Commercial Banking Sales Leader – Seattle Cascades said, “This program fits well with our mission of helping our clients and the community thrive by achieving financial wellness, which comes from improved workforce opportunities. Training for in-demand careers will lead to greater economic stability for the families that ReWA serves.”

According to the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council, by 2028 employment in the Puget Sound region’s healthcare industry is expected to grow by 24%. The demand for Medical Assistants is predicted to grow by 38% and for Licensed Practical Nurses by 32%.

ReWA Job Readiness teacher Marie Kjeldgaard agrees. “There is definitely a demand—at least 20% of our students are interested in further education.”

“Training for in-demand careers will lead to greater economic stability for the families that ReWA serves.”

Matt Hill, KeyBank President

In the SeaTac classroom, two training mannequins lay on tables ready to help students practice caring for clients. Over the next few hours, they would learn how to comfortably reposition a client in bed, provide hygiene care, transfer a client to a wheelchair, and perform a range of other skills.

This hands-on skills training is required in order to receive their Health Care Aide training certificate. This coveted certificate—which can cost up to $700 through other training centers—will open doors to employment and independence.

ReWA’s eight-week HCA training program includes four weeks of job readiness classes, followed by the 75-hour HCA basic training, then two weeks of review, preparation for the exam, and employment assistance with ReWA staff. The job readiness class and employment assistance is important to help them overcome barriers: transportation, childcare, and practicing job interviews. Kjeldgaard said some twenty percent in those in the HCA training will use the certificate to care for family members.

“Some students may complete the training, but don’t go to work right away. But just having the certificate gives them options when they are ready to work.”

Currently, ReWA assists at least 30 clients a year to gain employment as state certified home care aides. With this new funding, ReWA will hire a career coach to help 15 more clients each year advance in their health care careers.