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Access to trauma-informed, culturally accessible, and affordable mental health support is one of the most common barriers that survivors, including many of Tahirih’s clients, face as they heal from violence. Undocumented immigrant survivors of violence don’t qualify for benefits that can make a difference in their lives, such as food stamps, Medicaid, or federal housing assistance, and tend to work in jobs without health insurance or paid time off. Healthcare, and mental healthcare especially, can be prohibitively expensive. Additionally, free or low-cost services can have waitlists of up to a year in Houston. Immigrants may also have a difficult time finding a provider that offers competent and culturally-responsive mental health support in their preferred language.

Oftentimes, just calling to get on a waitlist can be hard, when providers don’t have the resources to ensure that calls are answered with interpretation and thus resort to a voicemail callback system. Such systems can be overwhelming and unfamiliar to a survivor of trauma who doesn’t speak the language in which the machine is giving instructions. Additionally, free and low-cost services have eligibility requirements. Even when immigration status is not a requirement, identification and proof of income or residency requirements can be hard to obtain for a survivor whose identification documents have been confiscated by immigration enforcement officials or whose housing is unstable due to having recently fled an abusive partner.

To address these barriers at a systemic level, Tahirih works with our local community partners to offer training on how to provide trauma-informed services for immigrant survivors of gender-based violence and to work towards increasing access to healthcare and other vital resources.

Tahirih’s Houston office joined the Rice University and Kinder Institute’s Community Bridges Program this past academic year. The program pairs nonprofit organizations with student fellows to conduct research aimed at addressing urban inequality and poverty. Tahirih’s Houston Policy Team hosted two students who created a Community Mental Health Resource Map for immigrant survivors in the Greater Houston Area.

This mapping project, developed by Ms. Roselyn Ovalle and Ms. Vedha Penmetcha, puts information about available resources and eligibility into the hands of those who need it most: immigrant survivors of violence. The map is available in English and Spanish, and provides information about cost, eligibility, and location, so that survivors can navigate the process of finding mental health support on their own when they don’t have access to a caseworker to assist them.

We hope to provide this resource in additional languages in the future. Additionally, the research team chose to include non-therapeutic resources on general wellbeing and self-care in the map, based on conversations with directly impacted immigrant survivors. This decision recognizes that a primary reason for the lack of culturally-responsive services is a shortage of service providers generally, but particularly those with adequate training and language skills to serve this community.  Even when a survivor can’t access traditional therapy, there are still things they can do to take care of themself while they work on finding a provider.

Once the map was completed, the research team presented it to a group of 10 immigrant survivors for feedback. Several people expressed interest in a training video on how to use the map to be able to share it with their families, friends, and communities. A primary challenge to services that emerged from this conversation was the lack of childcare during appointments for survivors who want to engage with mental health services, proving that finding a solution to the inaccessibility of mental healthcare for immigrant survivors is complex and must consider all the ways that systemic injustice impacts access to resources.

To visit and explore these resources, please see below:

  • Access the Resource Map
  • Learn how to use the map through this tutorial videos:
  • Mental Health & Immigration tri-fold pamphlet:
    • English
    • Spanish
  • Mental Health Services for Immigrant Survivors of Violence: Community Resource Mapping: A Community Service Provider Guide (Research Report)
  • Pathways to Wellness: Mapping Mental Health Resources for Immigrants in Houston (Poster Presentation)

The Tahirih team is grateful to Roselyn and Vedha, who gave their time and skills to dream up and develop this project and draft the associated resources. We’d also like to express gratitude to the Kinder Institute and Rice University for the mentorship and guidance provided to our fellows throughout the project. We are excited to continue building on the work that Roselyn and Vedha began.