- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Ebola crisis in West Africa is hitting some immigrants in Minnesota particularly hard, and efforts are underway to try to help them deal with the trauma of losing loved ones to the virus.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported (https://bit.ly/1zvMyrV ) that many West Africans in Minnesota are struggling with grief. One person has lost 17 family members to Ebola. Another has lost eight, including her husband and her mother.

Alexander Collins, executive director of the Liberian Ministers Association of Minnesota, a group with more than 50 member churches, said his association is working with the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute to train a first-response team to help the community work through grief.

“They’re kind of like psychological first responders,” said Donna Minter, the institute’s founder and executive director. “When people come to them, they have the resources to be able to help.”

The training was developed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Minter said. Although the Ebola outbreak is different, a person can experience the same physical and emotional process in response to a traumatic event.

Arthur Biah, a nurse in Minneapolis and founder of the nonprofit Liberian Health Initiative, has been organizing educational forums that highlight mental health services.

One of Biah’s friends in Minnesota lost a sister and brother to Ebola in the same week. He was still going to work because he had to pay the bills. But his boss realized he was struggling and drove him home.

“People are not having time to grieve,” Biah said. “There’s so many people and it’s happening so fast.”

Alvin Killough, a cultural psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, is working on a survey to assess the psychological effects of the outbreak on the West African communities here. He said it will ask people about what they think and feel, and how they are coping.

“We’re essentially talking about post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

Many West Africans still have the psychological scars a decade after civil wars in their homeland. Wynfred Russell, executive director of the Brooklyn Park-based African Career, Education and Resources group, said Ebola has added to the trauma, and like the civil war, the outbreak impacts everyone.

Some people “have lost upwards of about 18 to 20 family members,” Russell said. “If you think about it for a second, it’s like wiping out an entire generation.”

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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