October 23, 2018 News & Features » Cover Story

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Brittany Keegan, 29 

Doctoral Candidate at L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU

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Ash Daniel

"The more people talk about it, the more the stigma goes away."

That's been Brittany Keegan's experience when it comes to mental health, both professionally and personally. As a doctoral candidate she's looking at the role of nonprofits in helping refugees integrate, and this year she headed the organizing committee for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services' fifth annual Refugee Mental Health Summit. Services available to refugees are already limited, she says, with government assistance usually drying up within 30-90 days of arrival. And outlets to address the mental health issues that often accompany refugees in their new lives are even more difficult to access.

"I've had people tell me that they felt like they wanted to ask for help but they felt like they'd be a burden if they did," Keegan says. "Or they didn't know who to go to for help, so they just looked out a window and cried all day."

It can be intense and emotionally draining, but also deeply rewarding. She notes that she can't always see the direct, immediate effects of her work, but it's important to remember that some of it may be on a time release of sorts.

"I might not see all impacts, some might be more long term, but we do the best that we can and hope that something good will come out of it," she says. "I can't help everybody but I can help everybody that I can."

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