Suicide in migrant shelters indicates a lack of mental health services

The recent suicide of a Colombian immigrant at a homeless shelter in Queens stresses and strains Maria – the same immigrant who has suffered from psychological trauma. Maria had been in the United States for months, awaiting the results of her interview for asylum status, when her thoughts turned dark.

Thoughts of anxiety — about what she had left behind in Venezuela, and the prospect of her being sent home to live in prison for her environmental activism — flashed her head over and over again. Maria did not sleep for three days before landing in the emergency room.

I had to leave my family, my job, my home, my stability and my life. Maria, 37, who spoke on condition that only her first name be mentioned for fear of retribution from the Venezuelan government.

“…People were saying, The American Dream. But look how it became a nightmare.”

With hundreds of immigrants pouring into New York City every day, a new issue is starkly in the spotlight. Many have fled danger and devastation in their home countries in order to achieve a better future. They have dealt with crime and hunger along the way. Immigrants are thrown into a city unwilling to welcome them, often without ties, jobs, housing, insurance, or a common language, at risk of suffering from mental illness.

But it’s hard to get help because the mental health resources available are sorely inadequate, advocates and experts say. Pathways of treatment are not clear to anyone – let alone a person dealing with the fallout of a traumatic journey and hard facts In New York – said George Ramos, an immigration assessment therapist for immigrants seeking different immigration statuses.

Ramos said that with a mental health infrastructure already understaffed, waiting times for counseling are often more than three months — and can be longer without insurance.

“When there are no good services,” he said, “it usually leads to more severe reactions,” such as suicide.

The problem reached a breaking point last week. Colombian immigrant, Lady Paula Martinez Villalobos, has died by suicide, according to Julie Pulser, a spokeswoman for the city’s medical examination office. Martinez Villalobos used the rope to hang herself in the bathroom At a shelter in Hollis, Queens On September 18. 32-year-old mother’s friends told the news She had been in New York for four months and suffered from depression after her husband’s separation at the border.

She cried daily, and weekly checks by social workers at the shelter didn’t help.

Advocates and experts say the more than 10,000 migrants who have arrived in the city and entered the shelter system are also at risk. If migrants are already feeling hopeless, fearful, hopeless, piling on poverty, uncertainty and And poor living conditions It can increase their challenges – and turn their despair into death.

“You can hear it in their voices,” said Sergio Tupac Ozurin, a volunteer with the NYC ICE Watch mutual aid group. “…just imagine that you have so many needs at once. And there is a feeling that they are not being listened to. They are people who are very capable of this arduous journey, and they are here and want to make a living. And they’re just shuffled like cattle by both Bipartisan, Republican and Democrat.

When they arrive in New York, immigrants can obtain services from nonprofits and community organizations — but it can be difficult to access them. They can apply for public assistance and medical insurance, as well work permitsHowever, these operations were halted due to the shortage of staff and the huge number of applicants.

The city also opened a resource center last week, which hosts teams of mental health professionals at the Department of Health who conduct assessments, provide emotional support and advice and make referrals to the on-site case management team.

“I encourage all asylum seekers who need mental health support to take advantage of these services, and anyone in our city with anxiety, depression, or mental health challenges of any kind to call 888-NYC-WELL,” Mayor Adams said.

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But on two separate occasions, the voice message system On this line he said that all Spanish-speaking professionals are busy. Calls from Spanish have been forwarded to English language services.

More mental health support as immigrants arrive will help, said Dana Alonzo, a professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Work and founder of the Suicide Prevention Research Program. “We know this is a particularly vulnerable time, but we are not doing anything to connect individuals with the support they need during this time so that they are not at risk,” Alonzo said.

Inside the family shelter in Hollis, Queens where Paula committed suicide.

Ozurin said housing is an essential part of mental health, and conditions in family shelters are not helping.

“There is no surefire way for mental health problems to become fatal than if people did not have stable housing,” Ozurin said. “We hear, including from staff, that women in family shelters are not even allowed to talk to each other. They are isolated like prisons.

“We originally had these reports that women’s and families’ shelters were better than those for single men. What we hear is that some of these women’s shelters are like this. They isolate the population which only exacerbates any mental health issues and general desperation. Just “.

After her collapse, Maria, who worked as a psychiatrist in Venezuela, learned she needed more help. She worked through her psychological struggles, has since obtained refugee status and works as an Uber Eats driver. Now, she’s using her own experience, as well as her training, to help others. Volunteer in an Asylum Support Group to help others overcome the hardships of life in the United States

“It’s about putting yourself in a place where you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is hard,'” she said. “And you’re not alone. That’s why it’s important to seek help.”

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