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Help exists for immigrant families stressed-out over the unknown

By Cheryl Aguilar

Many in our immigrant community are feeling stressed, fearful, anxious about raids and deportations. The emotional reaction we are seeing is a normal reaction in the face of a threat and more common than often talked about publicly. These reactions can include a variety of symptoms such as constant worry about a perceived threat, change in sleeping patterns (inability to sleep or sleeping more than usual), inability to concentrate, lack of interest in doing things once found pleasurable, change in eating habits (lack of appetite or eating too much), irritability (this manifest as anger towards others), feelings of sadness or experiencing a range of emotions like guilt, frustration, social isolation or avoidance of people, places and things, memories of flashbacks of situations that represented a threat in the past, among other symptoms.

Untreated symptoms can escalate to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is crucial people in distress are connected to mental health services before their distress becomes a crisis. A mental health professional can teach specific strategies to manage and minimize symptoms.

Rather than sharing city and state specific resources, I wanted to share some ideas that can apply to different communities across the nation (particularly for community members without insurance).

Community health clinics. Many community health clinics have mental health therapists. If someone is uninsured, they are given sliding scale fee (a reduced fee based on income). If the clinic is a federally qualified health center (FQHC), under federal regulation they can’t turn people away for inability to pay if you are not able to afford the sliding scale fee (they may however tell you they don’t have availability if they are at full capacity but can place you on waiting list or refer you somewhere else.

Schools. There is a growing mental health movement in schools, which means many schools districts have therapists placed right in the schools so students can access services while there. In many cases, not just children receive services but families are engaged in family therapy if their child is receiving services.

Universities. Some universities have a student services center with counselors. Go to your student center and find out if these services are available. If they are not, if the school has a psychology or social work program, go visit them and inquire where you can receive services.

Nonprofits organizations. Some organizations that provide direct services have mental health services or can refer you. Visit your local nonprofits.

Churches. Many direct services organizations promote their services through local churches. Find out who your local church is connected to.

Access helpline. Most cities have an access helpline with information on local resources. This is usually listed in the city or county websites or call your local government office for number.

Crisis hotline. This is a confidential texting line where people can text to about a variety of stressors. Texts are answered by trained counselors. Visit for more information or text CONNECT to 741741. (English only for now)

Suicide hotline. If you or someone you know is having thoughts suicidal thoughts, call the suicide hotline numbers. Save it on your phone to always have it handy. 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish) 1 -800-273-8255 (English)

Private practice therapists can also be found in network websites such as: When scanning for therapists look out for those listing a sliding scale fee.  If you don’t see that listed, you can still call your selected therapist and inquire about discounted rates or pro bono hours.

Some cities and states like DC and Maryland have pro bono therapy networks. Do a google search for your city and state using key words “pro bono therapy”, “and your city or state name”.


For questions about mental health resources in your area, send an email to

Cheryl Aguilar, LICSW is a Washington, DC based mental health therapist. She specializes in working with Latinos and immigrants from the DC metro area.

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