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Sharing Expertise To Help Others: Collaboration Supports Black and African Communities in Boston – Via McLean News

Teaming up for a first-of-its-kind conference, McLean Hospital’s Education Outreach team and Women of Purpose International (WOPI-Boston International), an organization that empowers African immigrants, hosted a three-day mental health conference aimed at providing mental health outreach to Black and African communities in the Greater Boston area.

My Mental Health Matters is the brainchild of Dorothy Ssebakka, RN, who began her career at McLean in 2000—a year after she immigrated to the United States from Uganda.

She began as a mental health specialist and went on to nursing school. Since 2008, she has been a registered nurse at the hospital, where she currently works in The Pavilion and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute.

Ssebakka is also a minister and the founder of WOPI-Boston International, an organization that empowers African immigrants as they settle into their new homes in the U.S.

Because of her different roles, Ssebakka is in a unique position to understand the mental health concerns of Boston’s African community and connect people to resources.

Ssebakka is often seen as a trusted resource, with friends and neighbors regularly approaching her with questions about mental health. Some of her expertise comes from personal experience.

“Back home when I was living there, we lost a brother through suicide years ago,” Ssebakka said. “It was not until later, after I started working here at McLean, that I realized the impact untreated mental health can have on someone.”


Oluwarotimi Folorunso, PhD, right, explained neuroscience and the brain to participants at the first My Mental Health Matters conference hosted by McLean and WOPI-Boston

According to Ssebakka, the challenges faced by members of Boston’s African community are twofold: the lack of extended family people had back home in Africa and the stigma around mental health conditions.

Ssebakka founded WOPI in 2008 to provide the fellowship she felt was missing for herself and people she knew.

Members of WOPI connect to each other through preaching, conferences, and charity work.

“When we are together, we feel like we can encourage each other,” she said.

As part of her goal to reduce the stigma of mental health within the Black and African communities of Boston, Ssebakka teamed up with McLean’s Education Outreach team to host a free three-day conference that included a film screening with a Q&A, talks featuring McLean experts sharing insights and engaging in candid discussions about mental health, and fun, hands-on activities for families focused on understanding the brain.

“This conference is the beginning of open conversations, communication, and action regarding mental health within our immigrant community and among those outside. We want to create substantial, sustainable mental health support.”

According to Scott J. O’Brien, director of Education Outreach for McLean, working with Ssebakka to develop programming that was impactful for Black and African families was extremely gratifying.

“Dorothy is an inspiration, and I deeply admire her commitment to provide mental health resources and outreach to underserved populations,” said O’Brien, who moderated all three days of talks.

“We know that it is crucial to reduce stigma about mental illness and to provide safe spaces for people to listen, learn, and ask questions. I am proud that between McLean and WOPI-Boston, we were able to do that.”

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