Berkeley-based nonprofit opens clinic to provide mental health services to refugees

Karen Chow/Staff

Related Posts

Young, living in the country illegally and alone, Hector Estrada was initially unsure about trauma therapy after immigrating to the United States from Mexico following the death of his brother.

But after taking advantage of the services provided by the Berkeley-based nonprofit Partnerships for Trauma Recovery, or PTR, Estrada was able to open up.

“(Refugees) want a feeling that somebody cares about them,” he said. “You feel safe, you know, they helped me so much with the trauma, with feeling lonely.”

This past September, PTR opened a new clinic providing mental health services for the refugee community in Berkeley. The Mosaic Healing Center, located at 1936 University Ave., offers free care for refugees, asylum seekers, human trafficking survivors and individuals who have fled their home countries in cases of war, torture and persecution.

According to Executive Director Monika Parikh, when refugees first arrive in the United States, they receive a few months of support from the government though “the timeline is very, very short.” Additionally, while refugees receive a physical health screening upon arrival, there is no comparable mental health check.

Recognizing this lack in mental health support, PTR aims to bridge the gap between the physical health services refugees receive and the mental health services.

“We are really trying to focus on the population of people who we feel are often left out of the system,” Parikh said.

Most of the clinic’s clients come from low-income neighborhoods in Richmond and Oakland, though individuals from across the Bay Area to the Central Valley have utilized their services.

Leah Khaghani, a clinical trainee at the Mosaic Healing Center, said the clinic’s location is easily accessible from public transportation, which is crucial for most of their clients. She also said the clinic itself was designed to serve as a welcoming place to people from all cultures.

Michael Smith, director of the refugee rights program at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, which advocates and provides support for refugees, said 90 percent of individuals in cases filed are victims of severe trauma, or suffer from PTSD or depression. He also added that language and cultural barriers can impede refugee’s access to mental health care.

To address this, the Mosaic Healing Center provides services in 24 languages through an interpreter team made up of refugees and asylees specifically trained in mental health interpretation, many of whom have experienced similar situations as the clients they are helping.

The clinic currently sees 50 clients, and according to Parikh and Khaghani, referrals are coming in at a rapid pace.
“The nature of this work is to slow down, listen and bear witness to sufferings,” Parikh said. “People don’t recover in a few weeks.”

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cbell_DC.