NEW MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMS OFFER A SAFE SPACE, SUPPORT AMIDST COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND SYSTEMIC RACISM
Expanded staff and Saturday sessions offer help to “communities that are struggling”
Boston, MA (October 1, 2020): The COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial inequality have created a one-two punch to the psyche of the region’s black communities, leading to grief, trauma, and a strain on their mental health. Now, the Whittier Street Health Center is answering the call to action by expanding its mental health services and instituting two, gender-specific support groups.
The support groups, which will be provided at no cost to patients, are specifically aimed for black, indigenous people of color (BIPOC). The women’s program is called “Through Healing and Everlasting Determination, Inspiration, Validation and Affirmation we are Stronger: THE DIVAS” while men’s program is entitled “Building Relationships that are Understanding, Healthy, and Supportive: The BRUHS Initiative.” These group sessions will meet on alternative Saturday mornings starting August 15 at the Whittier Street Health Center (WSHC).
“We are dedicated to eliminating the barriers to mental health treatment for BIPOC populations,” said Frederica M. Williams, President and CEO of WSHC. “As we continue to live in a time of racial inequity, social injustice, and a COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately hit our black and brown communities, the time to talk about mental health in BIPOC populations is now.”
The emotional toll of the pandemic due to isolation, grief, lack of resources, unemployment and financial strain has been exacerbated by the current struggle over the excessive use of force against black communities; re-experiencing our own interaction with police while repeatedly seeing violent visuals of police brutality in the media is a common thread overwhelmingly reported by patients currently receiving behavioral health care at Whittier. Add to this the recent National Alliance on Mental Illness statement that “Racism is a public health crisis,” and the need is clear.
“If you look at the data, our communities are struggling,” said Williams. “What has exacerbated the problem is high rates of people who are dying from COVID-19, people losing their jobs and economic instability that many households are feeling. The stressors of COVID-19 and racial inequality have created an increased demand for mental health services. These Saturday sessions will be therapeutic, and treatment focused, but they will also be a community support group as people are going through different stages of grieving.”
THE DIVAS aims to repair the wounds of complex trauma and reinforce autonomy, strength, individual and collective identity by restoring healthy boundaries, developing social skills, building trust, and creating a safe, supportive community. The BRUHS Initiative aims to discuss issues related to men’s physical and mental wellness, relationships, individual and collective identities through mindfulness and elements of African-centered psychotherapy. Both groups will explore the role of traumatic invalidation on the expression of post traumatic symptoms.
“Unfortunately, stigma and differing cultural perceptions about mental illness in BIPOC populations often result in shame being associated with seeking mental health treatment. Mental health is often considered a taboo, weakness, or something that will go away on its own,” said Christine Pajarillo, LICSW, director of Behavioral Health Service at WSHC. “Given the vast issues that affect minority mental health, it is vital to discuss and address mental health with an approach that acknowledges their diverse experiences. These groups are intended to be healing spaces rooted in authentic, solution-, and growth-focused communication.”
To meet the growing demand, WSHC also recently hired several behavioral health clinicians from diverse backgrounds and three psychiatrists to address the high rates of mental illnesses, substance use and abuse disorders, and community trauma.
“Our staff represents the diverse cultures and backgrounds present in the communities we serve and has learned to be experts to provide culturally competent, quality healthcare, especially mental health treatment,” said Williams. “We recognize that the BIPOC community is less likely to have access to healthcare to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and we encourage everyone to utilize this service. No one is alone in their mental health struggles.”
Whittier Street Health Center is an independently licensed community health care center with a mission of providing high quality, reliable and accessible primary healthcare for diverse populations while promoting wellness and eliminating health and social disparities. A champion of equitable access to high quality, patient-focused care, social justice and economic equity, Whittier is accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC), certified by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) as a Patient-Centered Medical Home, and recognized by the NCQA for its Behavioral Health Integration. Through its locations in Roxbury and North Dorchester, and its Mobile Health Van program, Whittier serves nearly 30,000 patients and 20,000 community outreach visits annually; its ethnically and racially diverse patient base is primarily made up of individuals from Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, the South End and Greater Boston. Approximately 36% of Whittier’s patients are uninsured. Whittier provides a comprehensive array of 40 healthcare programs and services designed to meet the primary health care, behavioral health, and social needs of the community. Learn more at www.wshc.org.
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