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Mental Health Literacy at the IRC in Atlanta

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The Health and Wellness (H&W) team at the IRC in Atlanta is dedicated to providing comprehensive and culturally sensitive mental health services to our refugee clients. Refugees experience many traumatic events in their lives – those that force them to flee, difficulties on their journeys, and the stresses of adjusting to their new lives post-resettlement. To mitigate the adverse mental health impacts of traumatic events, the IRC in Atlanta’s H&W team developed a wrap-around mental health program focused on referring clients to integrated health services.

Participants in IRC Atlanta's Mental Health Literacy workshops.
Participants in IRC Atlanta's Mental Health Literacy workshops. Photo: IRC Atlanta

However, refugees aren’t always ready to engage with formal mental health services after they arrive in the U.S. Some individuals are too overwhelmed with cultural orientation, English classes, job hunting and appointments, while others might not be comfortable or familiar enough with the concept of mental health to seek out these services. In response, the H&W team partnered with Kaiser Permanente to develop a mental health literacy program to provide clients with the skills and capacity to address their own mental health concerns.

The program ultimately took the form of a stress management and self-care workshop the IRC in Atlanta now hosts once per month. Created by Dr. Betsy Gard, a contracted consultant, with assistance from the H&W team, the class focuses on practical day-to-day skills to manage stress and improve overall emotional, mental and social well-being. Whole families are invited to attend to make sure that everyone is comfortable engaging in the workshop.

H&W team member, Joseph Morris, said: “I have the immense privilege of being able to facilitate this workshop. We focus on the various stresses of integrating into the local community during and after the resettlement period. Clients are able to voice their concerns in a safe space and brainstorm solutions to the issues they face.”

In one workshop, Joseph asked everyone to describe a quality they liked about themselves and one woman struggled to find something to say. Her son spoke up to say he found it unbelievable that his mother couldn’t say something good about herself. He then explained he had watched his mother provide emotional support to him, his siblings and his father throughout their journey from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Atlanta. In fact, he said his mother was the strongest person he knew because of her ability to support the entire family in the face of adversity.

“Moments like these really put into perspective the importance of the work being done to resettle refugees,” said Joseph. “I am honored to be able to work with clients in their most vulnerable moments and watch them progress into independent and self-sufficient members of their communities. Being able to assist clients to address their mental health needs and manage their life stresses is a privilege that I will cherish as an invaluable personal and professional opportunity.”

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Alexis Buchanan, Development Manager at Alexis.Buchanan [at] Rescue.org or 678-636-8930.

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