Social work student visits conversation on Haitian mental health

A social work major who met with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy last month is using her academic research to tackle issues in the United States and Haiti.

Fabienne Edouard, a senior social work major, is using her platform for advocacy. Her research revolves around mental health in the Haitian community and affordable housing.

Edouard started her work in mental health as a student in a research methods course last semester. Before taking the course, Edouard said she was afraid of research and the amount of work it required. But now, she views the research necessary in all academic studies.

She worked with Dr. Dawn Apgar, the director of the undergraduate social work program, and had the opportunity to present her research on mental health in the Haitian community at Monmouth University in February.

“Fabienne is a wonderful example of a social work student at Seton Hall,” Apgar said. “She is an active class participant and strives to link policy to practice.  She has a passion for making change and embodies the values of the social work profession.”

Photo courtesy of Fabienne Eduard

Currently, Edouard is an intern at the Jersey City Housing Authority. She handles case management, assists clients and helps people enroll in various programs like Section 8. Her focus is on the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program.  

Edouard said it is necessary for the public and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to have stable housing. She said she believes that it should not be a grant-based program and should be permanently funded instead.

Edouard is also an advocate for mental health with a focus on the stigmas that exist in the Haitian and African American communities.

She chose this topic to research because it “hits home” to her. A Haitian herself, Edouard said, “… the Haitian community, we correlate any mental illness to spiritual warfare or demons.” 

“They don’t know how to address it,” she said. “They don’t know what to do. They don’t believe in therapy. To them, it is more spiritual. They don’t believe it can be something scientific or it can be something that can be medically cured.”

She added that she sees the same attitudes toward mental health in the African American community. Edouard said some people may say they are too tough to speak about their issues.

Edouard said the lack of talking about mental health in Haitian and African American communities is “slowly destroying the youth in our community.”   

“Just that one person listening to you can make a huge difference,” she said. “Observe. Listen. Be there.” 

Sha’Mika Hertilien, a senior social and behavioral sciences major and president of the Haitian Organization Promoting Education (HOPE), said, “… the older generation, especially through the practice of faith, look at talking about mental health as taboo.”

Hertilien added, “I think it’s very important that we have students researching and advocating for mental health discussions in our community.”

Despite all her work with social work now, Edouard was not always a social work student or even a Seton Hall student.

Edouard transferred to Seton Hall from Essex County College. She initially applied to the nursing program but the program did not work around her schedule. 

“I wanted to be able to work, go to school, be a parent and be a wife,” Edouard said. “This program shaped me to become the person I am today.” 

While learning how to work with people and study behavior, she also learned how to self-actualize and reflect. According to Edouard, it made her a better friend, a better mother and a better listener. 

On Feb. 20, Edouard attended Gov. Phil Murphy’s Town Hall Meeting in New Brunswick. After the meeting, Edouard introduced herself to the governor. 

“I hope one day we can have the chance to meet again so I can introduce what I’m passionate about more to him … he could help me spread awareness and my knowledge to the people who need it,” she said. 

Edouard plans to learn more about grants in the housing field and plans to continue to advocate and spread awareness regarding mental health in the Haitian community.

“Fabienne is always going to be a voice of those who are underrepresented and marginalized,” Apgar said. “She has the drive to make a real difference in the lives of others.”

Bianca Stover can be reached at bianca.stover@student.shu.edu.

Author: Bianca Stover

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