The recent suic*de of a Colombian migrant in a homeless shelter in Queens shook the nerves of Maria, a migrant who has struggled with an emotional trauma. Maria had been in the US for months awaiting the results of her political asylum interview when her thoughts darkened.

Troubled thoughts – about what she had left behind in Venezuela, about the prospect of being sent home to rot in prison for her environmental activities – ran through her mind time and time again. Maria was awake for three days before landing in the emergency room.

“I had to leave my family, business, home, stability, life. I had to face the challenge of being an immigrant in a new country, with a new language and without a job, ”said Maria, 37, who spoke on the condition that only her name was given for fear of punishment by the Venezuelan government.

“… People used to say, the American dream. But look how this becomes a nightmare. “

As hundreds of migrants flock to New York City each day, the new problem becomes more apparent. Many have fled the danger and destruction in their home countries to have a chance for a better future. Along the way, they dealt with crime and hunger. Thrown into the city unprepared to receive them, and often without knowledge, work, housing, insurance, or a common language, migrants risk mental illness.

However, help is hard to come by as the available mental health resources are deeply inadequate, supporters and experts say. The pathways to treatment are unclear to anyone – let alone someone dealing with the consequences of a traumatic journey and the harsh realities of New York, said George Ramos, an immigration assessment therapist for migrants seeking different immigration statuses.


With an already deficient mental health infrastructure, waiting times for a counseling visit often exceed three months – and could be longer without insurance, Ramos said.

“When there are no good services, it usually leads to more severe reactions,” such as suic*de, he said.

The problem reached a critical point last week. An immigrant from Colombia, Leida Paola Martinez Villalobos, died of suic*de, according to Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the city’s medical office. Martinez Villalobos hanged herself on a string in a bathroom at a shelter in Hollis, Queens, on September 18. Friends of the 32-year-old mother told The News that she had been in New York for four months and struggled with depression after being separated from her husband at the border.

She cried every day and weekly reports from shelter staff did not help.

Lawyers and experts say the more than 10,000 migrants who have arrived in the city and taken to the shelter system are also at risk. If migrants already feel despair, fear and desperation, an overlapping of poverty, insecurity and poor living conditions can compound their challenges – and make their hopelessness deadly.

“You hear it in their voices,” said Sergio Tupac Uzurin, a volunteer with the NYC ICE Watch self-help group. “… Imagine having so many needs at once. And there is a feeling that no one is listening to them. They are very talented people who have made this arduous journey, they are here and they want to earn a living. they are just being thrown around like cattle by both the Republican and Democratic parties. “

Upon arrival in New York, migrants can obtain services from nonprofits and community organizations – but access to them can be difficult. They can apply for state aid and health insurance, as well as for work permits, but these processes have been put on hold due to staff shortages and an overwhelming number of applicants.


The city also opened a resource center last week, which has teams of mental health professionals from the Department of Health to conduct assessments, provide emotional support and counseling, and referral to the on-site case team.

“I encourage all asylum seekers who need mental health support to use these services, and anyone in our city struggling with anxiety, depression or any kind of mental health issue to call 888-NYC-” WELL, said Mayor Adams.

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But in two separate cases, the voice message system on this line he said all the Spanish speaking professionals are busy. Calls were diverted from Spanish to English services.

More mental health support when migrants arrive would help, said Dana Alonzo, professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University and founder of the suic*de prevention research program. “We know this is a particularly sensitive period, but we are doing nothing to connect people with the need for the support they need during this period, so that they are not at risk,” said Alonzo.

Inside the family shelter in Hollis, Queens, where Paula took her own life.

Housing is a key component of mental health, Uzurin said, and conditions in family shelters are not helping.

“There is no surer way for mental health problems to become fatal than if people did not have stable housing,” Uzurin said. “We hear, also from employees, that women in family shelters are not even allowed to talk to each other. They are isolated as if they were prisons.

“Initially, we had this information that women’s and family shelters were better than single men’s shelters. We hear that some of these women’s shelters are isolated this way. They isolate the inhabitants, which can only exacerbate any mental health issues and just general despair. “

After her breakdown, Maria, who worked as a psychologist in Venezuela, knew she needed more help. She has gone through her struggles with mental health, has since been granted asylum status and works as an Uber Eats driver. Now she uses her own experience as well as her education to help others. She is a volunteer in an asylum support group, helping others overcome the difficulties of living in the USA

“It’s about putting yourself in a place where you can think,” Oh my God, this is difficult, “she said. “And you are not alone. That is why it is so important to seek help. “

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