On the last day of #mentalhealthawarenessmonth2022
I am finally writing about one of the most profound personal and professional experiences I have had in my field. It took me a while to unpack this enough to say a bit.
#EmboldenPsychology was founded on the principles of culturally competent practice, DEI as a value system, and the belief, after 20 years of work in the field of mental health and clinical psychology that #mentalhealthisforall.
These values were severely tested during the last 2+ years, during which my company offered mental health services at little or no cost to first responders and healthcare professionals, the restaurant industry which was reeling, and support for the huge challenges facing students and parents. ￼Need far outweighed resources.
I termed the Pandemic the ultimate compassion project: How could we help each other get through, when small businesses were boarding up, financial hardship was rampant, the health system was beyond capacity, and the summer of 2020 brought the highest level of clinical depression ever recorded in the United States since they started keeping records. I had incredible volunteers, community support, dear friends, colleagues, and peers who were there.
Even with all this, my belief systems were taken by the shoulders and shaken gently but firmly this past year. In February 2022, I was sought out by social workers and advisors working at two private schools in the DMV and asked to work with several STEM students; girls who had been evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the Taliban essentially closed down their state-of-the-art all-female boarding school in Kabul. After a nightmare journey on foot to the airport with a single backpack and with no notice or time for goodbyes to family, they were evacuated from their country of birth by US military aircraft. ￼￼Education as a life and death decision.
I am human, and was quite overwhelmed with my schedule and commitments. These determined and incredibly caring schools pinged me every day for a week, and I finally agreed to speak with them to see what I could possibly offer in the face of a human rights crisis. I was known for work with refugees and new immigrants, my love for STEM, and deep interest in multicultural mental health projects.
I have no regrets about my decision to proceed forward with this endeavor, because since that time, I have been able to counsel some of the bravest, sweetest, smartest, most down to earth girls in the world. Although they sacrificed so much for education and their personal and family safety, they manifest joy, resolve, and just every day giggliness.
Certainly, we have sessions that are painfully detailed, harrowing, about the traumas they have faced. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so brave as these young women. But we also discuss hairstyles, academic goals, friendship, how cool horses are, college, soccer, my terrible accent when I’m speaking Pashto, fave foods, henna, and Bollywood. I have some new recipes and songs under my belt.
Together, we also planned and helped implement psycho-educational programs at their schools about Afghan culture, Ramadan, and of course, delicious world cuisine. ￼I learned slang in Dari, Farsi, and Pashto. The crisis in Ukraine struck close to their hearts, particularly the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homes, and we spent several sessions processing what that means.
- Mental health is flexibility. Of body and mind.
- Mental health is finding joy even when everything seemingly sucks.
- Mental health is curiosity, academic and personal.
- Mental health is crying, and then still getting on with things.
- Mental health is caring about others in the world who are suffering.
- Mental health is interacting with teachers, students, customs, cuisines, and a psychologist￼ you had never met with grace, humor, and openness.
- Mental health is switching between languages, at a moment’s notice.
Clearly, mental health is an essential component in all lives. We don’t need a month, we need 24/7 everywhere for mental health awareness. I have great teachers.
Also see: https://www.sola-afghanistan.org/