While lawmakers across the U.S. fiercely debate the implementation of mental health programs, a group of African immigrants in Los Angeles has created culturally relevant mental and public health assistance for their own communities.
The African Communities Public Health Coalition non-profit was started in 2011 to serve African and Caribbean immigrant communities struggling with emotional, cultural and mental health needs. In 2017 there were 56,300 immigrants from African countries and 31,500 from Caribbean countries in Los Angeles County according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“There [were] a lot of suicides back in 2008 to 2009,” Executive Director of the African Communities Public Health Coalition Senait Admassu said.
The non-profit, which receives a combination of funding from the department and private grants and fundraising, sees itself as a bridge between community initiatives and government health services.
In 2017 the organization began providing direct mental health services by state-certified employees. All staff and volunteers, however, are not required to have an educational background or work experience in mental health to work in the coalition’s outreach and education efforts.
According to Admassu, education is vital, especially when dealing with a contentious subject like female genital mutilation practiced in certain African societies. The ACPHS also engages in efforts to educate the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement on why this practice exists, why it is accepted and the social stigma associated with it. The coalition also hopes to educate migrant families that may engage in female genital mutilation that the practice is illegal and not accepted in the United States.
However, outreach and understanding can be challenging. Admassu said she often hears the term “hard to reach communities” used by county health officials in reference to African immigrants and Caribbean communities of African descent. Admassu said this term is isolating because it sends the message that these communities are difficult to work with and are somehow an insular population.
“For mental health back home in Africa and even here, the first resource is a faith-based organization,” Admassu said. “A pastor, or an imam a spiritual person in general, is whom we go to for any resource and because of that, we are mainly partners with community faith-based leaders. It’s an easy way to reach out.”
People of all backgrounds can experience similar mental health problems, but Admassu said immigrant populations can experience more severe versions of anxiety and depression. In some cases, a pre-existing condition could become worse.
Read more at USCAnnenbergMedia.com.