News Release 

Major worldwide conference at SUNY New Paltz to focus on 'migration and mental health'

The event, free and open to the public, will feature 50 migration subject-matter experts

Athena Network New York

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. (Oct. 7, 2019) -- A major worldwide free public conference focusing on "Migration & Mental Health" is to be held at the State University of New York at New Paltz Student Union Building from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11. Preregistration is required.

This is the Athena Network's first "Congress on Migration & Mental Health" in the United States. Previous annual conferences, held since 2012, took place at major universities in Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London and Rome.

The New Paltz conference will feature more than 50 migration subject-matter experts -- the top thinkers in their fields -- from Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America, as well as the United States and Canada.

Focusing this year on "Gender, Place and Identity," the conference will also include an exhibition of identity-themed artwork, a performance of selections from the musical "Resident Alien," poster sessions, book signings and special guests.

The event's agenda, including presenter names and presentation and performance times, can be found at athenanetworknewyork.org.

Beyond Immigration Policy

"Lost in the heated debates about U.S. immigration policy and Europe's migration challenges is the mounting evidence of migrant mental and emotional health, harming the well-being of entire populations of migrants and society as a whole," said chief conference organizer María Elena Ferrer, director of the Athena Network's New York chapter.

She cited migrants' difficulties in adjusting to the new environment of the host community, the complexity of the local system, language difficulties, cultural disparities and adverse experiences as causing distress among migrants and the host community.

"This conference will provide eye-opening research from around the world and firsthand personal accounts about the many internal struggles migrants and refugees face," she said.

The Athena Network is a worldwide association of academics, clinicians, professionals, health policy advocates, immigrant services providers, community-based organizations, students and others focused on providing psychological and psychosocial support for immigrants, especially those living in extreme situations. It was founded by members of the World Psychiatric Association, an international umbrella organization of psychiatric societies.

"We hope the conference will expand people's perspectives, see immigrants and their difficulties in a whole new light, and inspire healthcare practitioners, human services providers and others who work with immigrants to make changes to provide the most effective care and support," Ferrer said.

One of the conference presentations will be a talk about the effects of the current U.S. immigration policy on the nation's overall mental health.

'Migratory Mourning'

A message underlying many presentations will involve a frequently suppressed secret suffering among immigrants that contributes to immigrant stereotyping, intercultural friction and increased marginalization.

The secret suffering is known as "migratory mourning" and it stems from feelings of loss, uprootedness, sorrow and inner turmoil that many immigrants experience after leaving their homelands.

The debilitating feelings -- stemming from separation from family and friends, language and culture, social status and other challenges -- manifest as pain, grief, homesickness and other psychosocial challenges, including emotional and social isolation.

Migratory mourning especially surfaces when immigrants face adversity. And it prevents even seemingly successful immigrants from being all that they can be.

Yet as prevalent as migratory mourning is, it is not widely recognized in the United States and few healthcare and human services providers have the knowledge and skills to help immigrants overcome this suffering.

Many migrants themselves don't know about migratory mourning and discount their draining experiences and chronic stress as simply "how things are."

Left unchecked, the mourning -- affecting documented and undocumented immigrants alike -- can produce acute and chronic mental distress and other challenges preventing immigrants and their children from fully participating in education, family support, business achievement or civic engagement.

U.N. Presentation

The day before the conference, an international delegation from the Athena Network is to present a manifesto to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in New York City, calling on the international community to respect the sanctity of refugee and immigrant families. The presentation and meeting are to be followed by a luncheon at the U.N. Delegates Dining Room.

The conference is sponsored by SUNY New Paltz; Rutgers University; the World Psychiatric Association; the Ulster County Department of Social Services; Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster; Agri-Business Child Development; the Rose Women's Care Service; Family of Woodstock and Humanamente.

For more information about the conference and to register, visit AthenaNetworkNewYork.org or call 845-389-9201.

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About the Athena Network

The Athena Network is a worldwide association of academics, applied and social scientists, health policy advocates, immigrant services providers, community-based organizations, students and other groups and individuals focused on providing the most effective psychological and psychosocial support for immigrants, especially those living in extreme situations.

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