Building Space for Mental Health

Building Space for Mental Health

This blog is part of our Building to Belong series, sharing additional insight into what the cross-cultural community center established through our capital campaign will mean for our West Michigan community. If you have not read our inaugural blog in this series, you may want to start here.

In communities all over the world, tending to a neighbor through conversation over tea eases the weight and grief of life, but those social bonds and deep connections are disrupted through the refugee resettlement process - isolation now compounding the trauma of being uprooted.

When we first started Circles of Support groups (six-week group education on trauma and stress management), our aim was to provide therapeutic tools to a group of people in the same language group that utilized the wisdom of collective culture. We hoped to destigmatize mental health and provide the care they needed.

One of the group members said that she found healing through the program when sharing a cup of tea and a bite to eat with others in the same language and culture.

This often isn’t what therapy looks like in the U.S1

Making therapy different

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began impacting West Michigan, we have witnessed a significant rise in the concern about mental health and an increased awareness of how a person’s mental health impacts their life as a whole.

Shared experiences of isolation, anxiety, and relational strain as a result of the pandemic have, in many ways, created opportunities for conversation about topics that have long held stigma. Very early on in the pandemic, we heard the same calls for open conversation, increased access to care, and creativity in approaching mental health issues from leaders of all different backgrounds.

And the New American leaders we partner with named additional barriers to access that immigrants and refugees were facing in obtaining the support they needed.

Mental health stigma in immigrant communities

Our staff–particularly in the Concentric program–have witnessed ongoing stigma directed toward people receiving therapeutic services, particularly at facilities associated with in-patient, crisis care. This leads immigrant and refugee community members to avoid even outpatient services provided at these facilities unless circumstances are truly dire.

If a New American community member decides to access care, they are likely to encounter barriers related to language, transportation, and culture, not to mention challenges in navigating insurance systems and finding a provider (which are common regardless of a person’s background)2

Treetops Collective is not a mental health care provider. We are not equipped to meet the various mental health needs that our newest neighbors face.

But we can help build bridges. 

Connecting community and mental health care

The cross-cultural community center we are working toward at 906 Division offers many opportunities for increasing access to mental health support outside of traditional therapeutic settings.

  • Small office rooms where someone could meet with a therapist individually,
  • Group session rooms (such as those conducted through our Circles of Support program),
  • Comfortable, judgment-free space 
  • Onsite childcare, removing another common barrier for parents

Addressing mental health needs throughout our community is a daunting task and no one organization, counseling office, or therapist will resolve the issues that exist on their own. Transformation will take a collective effort, and we believe that this building can be a home for that collaborative work. Will you join us?

Ready to talk more about a transformational gift to cultivate belonging in West Michigan? Set up a time to meet with our Development Director, Abby, here. We need each and every person mobilizing and inviting their neighbors to be involved in establishing this collective space where we can share true cross-cultural community for generations! 

1Murray, K. E., Davidson, G. R., & Schweitzer, R. D. (2010). Review of refugee mental health interventions following resettlement: Best practices and recommendations. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(4), 576–585. 

2Aten, J. D., & Hwang, J. (Eds.). (2021). Refugee mental health. American Psychological Association.