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AHN conference on mental health includes JFCS

Leslie Aizenman, Director of JFCS Refugee and Immigrant Services, was a featured speaker at the recent Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Immigrant and Refugee Health Conference. This year’s conference focused on mental health issues.

Leslie spoke about JFCS’s community support groups, which are peer-led by members of each newcomer community. JFCS began these groups five years ago with 24 groups that have now grown to 74. Each group helps its members in any number of ways and according to their specific needs.

At the conference, other speakers covered additional topics, including a presentation from the Squirrel Hill Health Center, a vital community partner that JFCS relies on to care for many of the refugee families that we help resettle.

The Keynote speaker was Dr. Hawthorne Smith, Clinical Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. Dr. Smith is a therapist and expert on the subject. He said that working with refugees and immigrants, especially those who have experienced serious trauma, takes a toll on providers and therapists. He reminded the audience not to neglect self-care.

We described community support groups and their activities and accomplishments in another article about a month ago. What’s new is that the program model is undergoing an outcome research phase to objectively determine its effectiveness. Several clinical observers are attending different groups and are documenting changes in different categories such as employment, families and education, among others. Feedback is being collected from group leaders, participants, and providers like JFCS that help organize the groups. Results from this research should be available in 2020, but we have confidence that these groups are invaluable to immigrant and refugee communities.

Across America, calls for more attention and resources for mental health are increasing. Leslie’s presentation documented JFCS’s effort to extend these services to refugees and immigrants, people who have escaped trauma and are confronting substantial odds to succeed here.

JFCS thanks Allegheny Health Network for their understanding and attention to the issue. Thanks to funding from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and Staunton Farm, newcomers here have people they can turn to for help.  For more information about refugee and immigrant community support groups, contact Yesmina Salib (ysalib@jfcspgh.org) at JFCS.

Photo: Bhutanese community support group