Conference Focuses on Refugees’ Mental Health

Unspoken Pic


Utica and many other upstate New York cities have become home to large numbers of refugees from around the world.  The refugee resettlement agency in the Mohawk Valley has started an annual conference it calls “I am Unspoken” to address concerns common among that population. Our story comes from Vanessa Maines of the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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The conference is being held this week at the SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica. It will focus on helping people recover from torture and trauma.


The speakers include a specialist in the psychosocial effects of war on children and the director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma.

They’ll provide a valuable service says Shelly Callahan, the executive director of the Mohawk valley resource center for refugees.


“These people are really world renowned experts in this field and it’s really incredible they’re going to come to Utica to share their knowledge and training with this community.”


Training in how to recognize and deal with the effects of trauma. That matters in a place like Utica. About 15,000 refuges have been settled here in the last 30 years. Many came from places where torture and trauma were common.


“If you think about a significant number of those people have (sic) experienced this sort of thing, educating service providers and the local community on how to help them heal is a good idea,” says Callahan. These folks are our folks; this is our community, so it’s really helping our community help itself.”


Callahan says service providers and health workers are expected to make up a large number of people attending the conference.


Mental health professionals in particular are not used to dealing with these kinds of issues in the United States.


“We just don’t have experiences like that. It’s not a typical situation when someone starts to exhibit mental health issues, that you would think, well were you tortured.”


This is the third year the conference is being held, and like the previous two years there is a human rights film festival that goes along with it.


Mike Petrei directs the festival. He says it’s a good fit to work with the refugee center because they deal with human rights issues every day.


“It’s a really great partnership and it just really made sense. This festival offers a really great way for people to see and experience what’s happening around the world,” says Petrei.


Events which often rob people of their dignity and which the conference is helping to restore.


For WAMC, I’m Vanessa Maines with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College