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’

  • October 9, 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. 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 the 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 October 17 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


“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 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.

“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, VP of Programs and Social Services. “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.”

“Our staff represents the diverse cultures and backgrounds present in the communities we serve and 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 behavioral healthcare, and we encourage everyone to utilize this service.”


A note about Whittier and COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in our area, we ask all clients and patients to call ahead before coming to any of our sites. We are working to take care of most clients/patients via phone/video encounter so we can meet your ongoing healthcare needs. This is for your safety and so we can provide the highest quality of care to you while following CDC guidance for COVID-19. Please call 617-427-1000 for any questions or concerns.

Whittier will provide COVID-19 testing from 10 am to 4 pm on Monday to Friday. Following CDC guidance, we recommend testing if you have a fever AND one of the following three symptoms: cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat. Please bring your picture identification and your insurance card (if you have insurance).