The process of starting a new life is challenging for every refugee coming to Colorado. They need to learn many new systems and rules and how to communicate and become self-sufficient. Just figuring out how to access basic needs can be very difficult.

Many refugees manage to meet the challenges of adjusting to life in the United States, no matter how different it was than their homeland. But for some refugees, the trauma they experienced in the past and present become too much to bear. Mental health crisis can be the most pressing issue they face – and the most challenging to address.

Fortunately, new refugees in Colorado who are experiencing serious mental health issues have access to a support program led by the Denver office of the International Rescue Committee. The IRC’s Family Stabilization Program provides three mental health-trained clinicians who visit clients at home, build a trusted relationship, help them build coping skills, access resources and advocate for themselves.

The goal is to help clients become safer and more stable and to help them navigate resources. Clients can be individuals or entire families and the types of issues the program supports include post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide risk, domestic violence, abuse and sexual assault. Family Stabilization Specialists do not provide traditional counseling or case management services. They follow an advocacy-based counseling model - supporting clients with identifying ways to address their challenges, de-stigmatizing mental health, psychoeducation and helping clients make appointments and taking them there.

“We are there for our clients in their most difficult moments,”

said Cherisse Davis, Mental Health Program Coordinator and interim supervisor for the Family Stabilization Program.

“Every situation is unique and progress will look different for each client. The focus is on providing holistic support, helping them to set goals and being able to work together toward overcoming challenges.”

The Family Stabilization Program is supported by the Colorado Refugee Services Program, an office of the Colorado Department of Human Services. The program is available to new refugees who are being supported by refugee resettlement agencies. The program serves clients who are served by IRC, the African Community Center and Lutheran Family Services. Currently, specialists are working with over 100 individuals ages 12 to 64. For a variety of reasons, it is common for clients to resist seeking out western mental health system providers and counselors. The Family Stabilization Program provides a bridge and much-needed in-person support for clients to help them learn about resources, become comfortable with seeking out services, and to advocate for the care that they want or need.

The need for mental health services is especially acute in refugee communities due to the intense trauma, both in the past and ongoing, that refugees experience. According to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems, one in three asylum seekers and refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In Colorado, the Family Stabilization Program is designed to support clients in crisis and those who are unable to manage daily activities. The IRC offers other programs to support mental health and wellness, including skill-based mental health coaching, wellness groups and a new cooking class.

Clients served by the Family Stabilization Program are facing intense struggles and often need support for months, if not years. Davis said she is heartened to see progress, such as seeing a client be able to go out in public and engage in a positive way after starting medication, or leaving a relationship that was harmful to them, despite the incredible challenges and stigma associated with that.

“Change takes a long time, growth takes a long time, healing takes a long time. We may not see someone immediately improving, but even being someone alongside them is such a success.”

Learn more about the Family Stabilization Program here. Anyone experiencing mental health crisis can access support by calling 988.