Progressive Individual Resources

Photo of Progressive Individual Resources Staff

Sharing the language of healing

Immigrants and refugees from war-torn African countries often arrive in Minnesota with traumatic pasts and no language for what they are going through. Progressive Individual Resources is giving people the language and support to begin to heal their invisible wounds and help others.

The organization, which was started by Dr. Richard Oni and his wife, Tracy Hanson Oni, in 1988 is a licensed provider agency offering counseling and other support. They have a staff of 25 and specialize in supporting new African immigrant refugee children and their families. Dr. Oni is originally from Nigeria and has also worked for the United Nations, reporting on the public health status of Kenyan refugee camps. He understands the cultural divide between many African countries and the United States when it comes to mental health, as well as the stress, trauma and disorientation many people have been through.

“There is a stigma associated with mental illness in many African countries. People attribute it to supernatural forces - to witchcraft or punishment. They think it is incurable. People are so afraid of being considered ‘crazy’ that if they do notice symptoms, they will usually try to hide them,” said Dr. Oni. “We have to disarm perceptions so people can get well.”

Teacher next to Screen displaying Powerpoint image about mental health

A grant provided by the F. R. Bigelow Foundation allowed Progressive Individual Resources to organize training to further disentangle misperceptions about mental health. They held a series of Community Conversations, where staff visited community events. Topics included the importance of mental health and how to identify signs of mental illness. Participants also had a safe place to discuss their fears and heard new ways to think about mental illness. Progressive Individual Resources surveyed participants and showed that of the 84 people who attended, 83 percent reported feeling comfortable talking about mental health after participating in a Community Conversations, up from less than 40 percent prior to participation.

The second component was Mental Health First Aid training, eight-hour sessions where 28 people became certified community mental health leaders. “Participants were excited about the accomplishment and also about the idea of being able to better help others,” said Dr. Oni.

Dr. Oni said he has noticed a positive change in the community Progressive works with. “People have become more willing to share their feelings and ask for help.”

Learn more