National Health Corps - Philadelphia: Spotlight on Service

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Health and mental health - two seemingly discrete terms, to all appearances describing two distinct fields of academic study and professional practice. Yet in reality, it often proves impossible to separate the concrete physical health of the body from the more fluid mental and emotional health of the mind and spirit.

Health and mental health - two seemingly discrete terms, to all appearances describing two distinct fields of academic study and professional practice. Yet in reality, it often proves impossible to separate the concrete physical health of the body from the more fluid mental and emotional health of the mind and spirit. I’ve been interested in the overlap between health and mental health for a while now, and I’ve developed an interest in organizations and programs that attempt to bridge the gap between these two concepts. As I began my year of service with the National Health Corps Philadelphia a little over a month ago, I was excited to discover how much of my AmeriCorps year would involve an integrated approach to health and mental health.

During our Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) training, we received an overview of the impact of traumatic adverse childhood experiences (also known as ACEs - http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/) on the overall health and well-being of individuals and communities. We learned about the ways in which childhood trauma can actually alter a person’s neural pathways and brain functioning, leading to a lifetime of increased risk for negative health and mental health outcomes. We were also introduced to the concept of trauma-informed care in the healthcare field, which attempts to provide a safe and supportive environment for people who have survived traumatic experiences. This training on trauma and trauma-informed care illustrated very clearly the ways in which mental health and physical health are inextricably linked, which I have also seen in practice at my host site.

This year I am serving as a Care Coordinator at Nationalities Service Center (NSC), a refugee resettlement organization that also offers services to asylum seekers and immigrants in the Philadelphia area. Many of our clients have lived through extremely traumatic events before coming to the US - they have survived warfare, sexual assault, famine, torture, trafficking, and the destruction of their homes. This trauma affects their health in myriad ways. Some clients need access to physical or occupational therapy because of old injuries, while some children with asthma or diabetes have been living for years without medication because of the limited access to healthcare in many refugee camps. In the face of such overwhelmingly visible health issues, it might be tempting to overlook the critical but largely invisible role that mental health plays in a patient’s overall health and well-being.

In my past month at NSC, however, I have witnessed the exact opposite.  The staff at NSC work diligently to ensure that the mental health needs of our clients are adequately addressed as well. Whether a client is dealing with PTSD, depression, or the anxiety and loneliness that accompanies adjustment to a new country and culture, we can make referrals and schedule appointments with mental health providers across the city who are able to offer culturally sensitive therapy and support to our clients. NSC is also a part of the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative, a unique partnership that connects refugees of all ages with support services such as art therapy, mentoring and tutoring, and community-based support groups. I still have a lot to learn about the mental health resources and services that are available for refugees and immigrants in Philadelphia, but it’s been encouraging and motivating to be a part of an organization like NSC that is striving to provide integrated services to support the health of the whole person.

This was originally posted as part of the National Health Corps - Philadephia blog: http://www.nationalhealthcorps.org/philadelphia/blog/it%E2%80%99s-all-connected-caring-health-and-mental-health-refugees

 

 

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