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St. Louis nonprofit to help Afghans recover from the trauma of conflict in their homeland

Two Australians created Mental Health First Aid  in 2001. Since then, millions of people have taken classes in how to help someone in a mental health crisis.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
A $1.8 million federal grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement will provide mental health services and therapy sessions to newly arrived Afghans who may suffer from combat-related trauma.

Bilingual International Assistant Services is providing newly arrived Afghans who suffer from combat-related trauma with mental health support.

The St. Louis nonprofit received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to offer mental health assessments, counseling services and individual and group therapy sessions to Afghans who moved to St. Louis after August 2021. The Services to Afghan Survivors Impacted by Combat program also will provide psychiatric counseling and long-term psychiatric care.

Newly arrived Afghans in the region are suffering from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder and need help coping, said Haroon Safi, program coordinator at Bilingual International Assistant Services.

“Leaving everything [for] Western life, that's a big culture shock for them, so that will intensify everything — their mental health situation,” Safi said.

Afghans who arrived in the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome or Operation Allies Refuge can qualify for the mental health services.

The three-year grant allows the nonprofit to hire more caseworkers and therapists for about 600 Afghans.

Addressing all aspects of family life will help families become acclimated to a new culture and assist them emotionally and socially with the immediate resettlement phase, said Jason Baker, the organization’s executive director.

“Any work to kind of minimize the stigma around mental health work in foreign born communities, especially refugee communities with pretty significant complicated trauma histories, is a good thing,” he said. “That will extend beyond the borders of that specific community.”

Psychiatrists from St. Louis University Hospital will come to the organization’s facilities to offer services. Welcome Neighbor STL and the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis will provide additional social support services to Afghans.

The mental health services will be culturally sensitive to help Afghans feel emotionally and mentally safe, to make sure care does not cause clients to suffer additional anxiety, Safi said.

“They lived in Afghanistan … there was constant war or constant trauma,” he said. “Those folks have been through a lot of things.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.