AHN holds its 2nd annual Conference on Behavioral Health Models of Care for Immigrants and Refugees

L-R: Rebecca Weinberg, PhD, Devon Jennings, Zita Iwuoha and Gloria Rodreguez-Ransom

On Wednesday July 17, 2019, The Allegheny Health Network's Center for Inclusion Health gathered different behavioral health providers in Allegheny County to discuss ways to improve care for immigrants and refugees. The conference emphasized the importance of trauma informed and culturally competent interventions to address the behavioral and mental health needs of immigrant and refugee populations. The conference sought to challenge service providers to ensure that the idea of inclusion health in the Pittsburgh region spreads and sustains.

Representatives from the different immigrant and refugee groups shared their acculturation experiences and the challenges they face along the way. Their insights emphasized the need for our region to do more in order to become a welcoming region. The service providers shared different strategies they are adopting to be welcoming to immigrants and refugees and some of the exciting initiatives happening around the region. These initiatives include:

  • The Center for Inclusion Health's Immigrant and Refugee Doula Initiative. Supported by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, the initiative addresses maternal and child health gaps in immigrant communities by promoting services that meet these populations where they are. CIH  launched an Immigrant and Refugee Doula Initiative aimed at addressing cultural and language barriers that affect the quality at maternity care immigrant moms get.
  • The Jewish Family and Community Services Immigrant and Refugee Support Group. Funded by the Department of Human Services, the support groups are led by members from their communities to address behavioral and mental health issues. JFCS provides capacity-building opportunities for the peer leaders to run effective support groups in their respective communities. The groups conduct sessions on wellness, including yoga and exercise, to help them deal with anxiety and depression.
  • Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE) Refugee Youth Program. The program works with refugee youths in public schools to address challenges they face in the U.S. system. Jenna Barron, Executive Director of ARYSE, emphasized that ongoing support for immigrant and refugee youths is critical in behavioral health services. She added, "safe spaces and support groups are very important, not just for immigrants and refugees but for us as a whole.

During a panel discussion on Women's Health & post-partum depression, panelists pointed out the importance of language when communicating with an immigrant or refugee mom dealing with post-partum depression. Sr. Zita Iwuoha, a Home Visiting Nurse with the Allegheny County Department of Health, noted, "We cannot generalize based on who they are or where they come from because every mom is unique." Developing relationships and building trust is very important in providing services to immigrant moms dealing with post-partum depression. Home Visiting Services offer such opportunities.

Dr. Hawthorne Smith, Director of Bellevue, NY

The conference featured keynote speaker Dr. Hawthorne Smith, Director of Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and Associate Clinical Professor at the NYU School of Medicine. His speech spoke strongly to what the community leaders shared about the importance of support systems for immigrants and refugees, "it does not have to be therapy to be therapeutic." He closed his keynote with three important things to hold on to and to count on in life: Wisdom, Courage and Hope.

Check out these upcoming events:

  1. International Initiative on Mental Health Leadership Refugee Match, September 8-9, 2019 at Squirrel Hill Health Center. For more details, contact Andrea R. Fox afox@squirrelhillhealthcenter.org
  2. North American Refugee Health Conference, Cleveland Ohio, June 2020.

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