In the heart of North Carolina, El Futuro is spearheading a transformative initiative to address the mental health needs of immigrant communities. Initially conceived as the Immigrant Mental Health Policy Solidarity Network in partnership with the NC Institute of Medicine, El Futuro's journey has evolved far beyond policy recommendations toward becoming a beacon of community mobilization and solidarity. 

The Mental Health Needs of Immigrant Groups

Immigrants in North Carolina, particularly those who are low-income, confront a multitude of mental health challenges exacerbated by socioeconomic disparities, acculturation stressors including discrimination, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The alarming rates of depression symptoms among adults reflect an urgent need for accessible and culturally sensitive mental health services. Compounding this issue is a critical shortage of multilingual mental health professionals and the declining availability of accessible treatment options, further widening the gap in care accessibility.

The Community-Driven Approach

El Futuro's approach to addressing these challenges is rooted in community-led mobilization and empowerment. Their mission is centered around meaningful engagement and supporting leaders within immigrant communities. One key strategy El Futuro implements is compensating community leaders for their invaluable contributions. Similarly, El Futuro recognizes that additional resources – such as childcare, transportation, and expert translation services to facilitate equitable participation – will be essential to future offerings to ensure accessibility and inclusivity. Through community organizing and psychoeducation, El Futuro strengthens self-efficacy and empowers leaders to advocate for their communities effectively.

Navigating Nuances and Expansion

Throughout this work, it is important to recognize that no community is homogenous and, therefore, address the nuances within immigrant groups. An advisory council comprising individuals from diverse backgrounds ensures that a broad spectrum of distinct cultural perspectives is represented. Key informant interviews and community engagement initiatives are allowing El Futuro to shape initiatives tailored to the specific needs and barriers faced by different immigrant groups.

Some examples of recent insights from these interviews include:

  • The ways the ‘language of health’ shifts from culture to culture. For some immigrant groups, the idea of mental health doesn’t resonate as clearly, since they focus more on emotions and feelings than thought processes.
  • The nuances of subcultures in relation to mental health. For example, the farmworker community has a much less permanent relationship with mental health. Since their lives and livelihoods are often transient, feelings of impermanence often create a barrier to prioritizing mental health, as they often view their current state as only temporary.
  • Many immigrant groups face challenges when navigating a cultural shift. For instance, elders in many African countries are respected for their years of wisdom, but this is rarely the case in American culture. The sharp cultural contrast can lead to feelings of isolation and displacement because the elders’ role in society is no longer held in such high regard.

In advocating for policy change and holistic support for immigrant mental health, El Futuro's growing Immigrant Solidarity Network focuses on progress over final outcomes. By asking community leaders and program staff what they are learning from participants, El Futuro is able to integrate these valuable lessons along the way. This process is ongoing and continues to evolve as the work continues.

How to Best Support Immigrant Mental Health Initiatives

If you are interested in supporting immigrant mental health initiatives, a recap of helpful strategies for consideration includes:

  • Immigrant community leaders too often work low-wage, hourly jobs. Time spent contributing to community efforts can result in forfeited wages for the family. Any initiative that asks immigrant community leaders to come to the table to share insights and recommendations must include funding for compensation for this dedicated time and expertise.
  • The development of steering committees and advisory councils from within immigrant communities can ensure that diverse, multicultural perspectives are considered.
  • Consider using mixed-methods approaches to gain insight from immigrant community leaders and address the varying needs and barriers among different groups.
  • Community mobilization for improved immigrant mental health involves a spiral learning process in which desired outcomes can change over time. Be sure to include adequate support for robust evaluation of project learnings. These are often where the true impacts lie.
  • Follow El Futuro on social media and share with your networks. (@ElFuturoNC)