JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Mental Health Matters: Helping Refugees Adjust to Their New Home

Mental Health Matters: Helping Refugees Adjust to Their New Home

JFS serves refugees through a variety of programs, but the most focused of these is the Refugee Mental Health program, which provides specialized, culturally sensitive, and compassionate mental health care to those with refugee status who have been welcomed into our country. Many of the refugees JFS serves have experienced severe trauma and loss in their native countries and need to heal from deep emotional wounds before they can succeed in their new Colorado home.

The team of trained therapists provides individual, family, and group therapy to refugees and assists them with case management and connection to psychiatric services, if needed. Beyond mental health care, a systems navigator helps refugees access a variety of resources, including helping them enroll their children in schools, access health care, connect to housing resources, and search for sustainable employment. The team can also connect these clients to other services at JFS, including the Weinberg Food Pantry and Family Safety Net resources. By connecting clients to resources, within JFS or the greater community, the Refugee Mental Health team hopes to help refugees feel more connected so they can start integrating into their new home.

The Refugee Mental Health program at JFS is highly regarded by the refugee population. Refugees know they will find caring support, whatever their situation may be. They are comfortable coming to JFS and know they will be treated with sensitivity and respect. The JFS staff is very warm and welcoming, creating a safe, comfortable place for clients to share their feelings and heal.

While there is often a language barrier between therapists and refugees, it is easily broken with a quick smile, a calming greeting, and a listening ear. Therapists work with interpreters as needed when in session with refugee clients, but also try to learn a few words in their clients’ languages to be able to connect with them and provide comfort.

As a newer member of the JFS Refugee Mental Health team, I am already seeing the happiness and satisfaction on our clients’ faces. Every day I hear positive feedback and thankful responses from those we serve. One of our clients recently shared, “I see my therapist smiling at me every time I come here, and every time she makes my day.”

By receiving a variety of support services at JFS, our refugee clients can experience less daily stress, which allows them to work on improving their emotional stability. I recently worked with a Syrian family that struggled with the trauma of their past as well as the challenges of moving to a new and strange place and not being able to speak the language. The mother was especially traumatized at the beginning, but with the help and support she got from the JFS Refugee Mental Health team, she is now going to school to learn English, has enrolled her children in school, and is able to go to doctor appointments on her own. She is even learning to drive! She is much more confident now and has hope for her future.

What can the community do to help welcome and embrace refugees? We can start with the basics, including a smile, an act of kindness, and keeping an open mind about cultural differences. We can also continue to support JFS in providing quality services to those in need.

Since starting at JFS, I’ve seen the dramatic changes in many clients’ lives and it makes me proud to be part of the Refugee Mental Health team.

Lulu Abbas

By Lawahiz “Lulu” Abbas, Refugee Systems Navigator

Lawahiz “Lulu” Abbas joined JFS in August 2018 as the refugee systems navigator in the Refugee Mental Health department. An immigrant from Sudan, she is a native Arabic speaker who can communicate and relate well with other immigrant and refugee clients. Lawahiz was a licensed physician in Sudan before coming to the United States six years ago.



META DESCRIPTION: Learn how Jewish Family Service is helping refugees adjust to life in their new home through its Refugee Mental Health program.