How a Connecticut woman is working to improve mental health care for her immigrant community

How a Connecticut woman is working to improve mental health care for her immigrant community

Reena Aurora came to the United States from India in 1989. Now in Connecticut, she is a member of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji Sikh or Gurduwara Temple in Norwalk.

“She is dynamic, energetic, very well spoken, very well liked in the community,” said Minti Kaur, a Sunday school teacher and community outreach team leader.

Aurora is an active member of the temple’s community outreach program. She also leads the health care and mental health team of Congregations Organized for a New Connecicut (CONECT), a collective of liberal religious congregations and civic groups in southern Connecticut.

“I think it’s fair to say that she’s very inspiring in terms of all the activities she does. And no matter whether someone shows up or no one shows up, they will be there regardless,” said Ranjit Sambar, an administrative officer and administrator of the temple.

Reena Aurora, leader of CONECT’s health and mental health team, receives a sweet pudding from Ranjil Singh, an official at her Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji Gurdwara Sikh Temple in Norwalk, Connecticut.

At a fall campaign prep meeting, Aurora introduced CONECT’s mental health program. It includes the creation of crisis stabilization centers and respite centers for peers. These would work as alternatives to incarceration or the emergency room in the event of a mental health crisis.

“Peer-to-peer respites are run by people who have lived experience with illnesses and who have been trained and certified to help others with mental illnesses,” she told the audience.

That’s something to ask especially of gubernatorial candidates, she said. “We want to know if Connecticut’s next governor will lead the state to seek out the best combination of these two models for our state and prioritize funding to open them up and get them working in our communities as soon as possible.”

Aurora’s advocacy on mental health issues stems from her own experience before immigrating to the United States. In the early 1980s, the minority Sikh community in India was persecuted. His own brother – aged 21 at the time – was burned to death in the violence. This had a terrible mental impact on his parents.

“Father, I still can’t get over his trembling fingers. Because he brought my brother in a bag, just a bunch of bones. And he had to pick up all those bones. And those are traumas that no parent should ever go through,” Aurora said, recalling the incident.

She said it devastated her mother.

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Reena Aurora, left, CONECT health and mental health team leader, with Ranjil Singh, a temple official, at the Sikh Gadwura (temple) in Norwalk, Connecticut.

In Connecticut, the family sought mental health care for her. But the therapist was not of her culture, nor of her place – as Aurora said. “Sometimes she would attend the session. Sometimes she would take her medication and she would be like, I don’t know. It just doesn’t work for me.

So, Aurora says her work is now at two levels: reducing mental health stigma in her own community and increasing culturally appropriate care for those in need.

“Hearing a powerful story like Reena’s and the story of what her family has been through is an important part of the process,” said Matt McDermott, a CONECT organizer who works closely with Aurora.

This is what grassroots local political organizing is all about, especially at a time when many political actions are now online, he said. “Keep organizing and engaging people not just to be angry, not just to want to turn off the TV, or turn off the internet, or scream and scream on the internet, but to engage locally, with other people in real life. ”

Aurora was a major influence in establishing its health care and mental health agenda, he said.

“When we bring together people from diverse backgrounds and faith traditions, when we really share those experiences, and when we can be honest with each other about what they’ve been through, we believe we can come up with more effective and more effective policies. responsive,” he said. .

Her work is paying off because her Sikh community has warmed up to have a voice in local politics, Aurora said. “I have so many women and even now some men are coming up and saying yes, let’s do it, and we have to talk about it.

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