Polish Immigrants More Willing to Seek Psychological Help

A Polish woman rescued after attempting to jump from the Kosciuszko Bridge. (Photos from Steven Malecki/Facebook via Nowy Dziennik)

A Polish woman rescued after attempting to jump from the Kosciuszko Bridge. (Photos from Steven Malecki/Facebook via Nowy Dziennik)

Overwhelmed by personal problems, a 45-year-old Polish immigrant tried to take her life by jumping off the Kosciuszko Bridge in Greenpoint on Monday.

It was only after two hours of conversation that two NYPD officers managed to talk the woman out of the decision to end her life in the dirty waters of Newtown Creek.

Polish-American psychologists and psychiatrists say depression, anxiety, stress, neurosis and self-destructive behaviors are not rare among Polish Americans and other immigrant groups. A number of their patients seek help in managing their fears and anxiety, which untreated can easily lead to depression. Living outside of their home country, immigrants especially, are prone to feeling helpless and vulnerable when facing personal and other tragedies.

“The tough reality combined with longing for the stability they have had in life often leads to depression. It is augmented by fears and anxiety that stem from overblown expectations they often cannot meet,” says therapist Marta Godlewska who conducts psychological workshop Let’s Talk! in New York.

Low self-esteem, family, personal and financial problems, loneliness and a lack of ability to cope with difficult situations – these are the most common problems driving Polish immigrants to depression and emotional imbalance, say therapists and psychologists who treat Polish-American patients.

Luckily, in recent years, an increasing number of Polish immigrants have decided to seek help from therapists or psychiatrists. The growing number of patients is not an indication that more people are battling with mental hurdles, but can be attributed to a growing awareness about depression and professional help that can be obtained.

“It is not that the number of people suffering from anxiety or depression is growing. It has long been more or less on the same level. What has changed is the way people approach counseling and their awareness that there is help available. People are less and less ashamed to reach out for this kind of help,” says Dr. David Brozyna, a psychiatrist whose practice is in Rutherford, New Jersey. He explains that there used to be a stigma attached to seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. “People feared being judged and accused of mental illness which was associated with having to be locked in a mental institution,” Brozyna explains. Now, he adds, there are fewer hospitals like that, and an increasing number of people seek proper help from specialists and take advantage of prescription drugs.

Growing awareness in the Polish-American community and willingness to seek professional help has also been noticed by Godlewska. “People treat a therapist as a person they can turn to for advice on how to improve one’s life, how to change bad habits, how to define one’s needs and often how to receive feedback,” Ms. Godlewska says.

However, despite the change in attitudes and perception of psychological help, there are still too few professionals and centers people can reach out to.

“People may be in need of getting help, but they often don’t know where to look for it, especially in the Polish language,” says Katarzyna Fiorita, a therapist at the Outreach Center, a Greenpoint organization that helps fight addictions and solve personal problems.

“In this particular population there are a lot of people who have problems communicating with a mental health professional in English,” Fiorita explains.

According to the Polish-American psychologists, the younger generation of immigrants or people born in the United States are more open to seeking help from mental health professionals than older immigrants, especially those born outside of the U.S.

“Older people still find it hard to cross the barrier and seek therapy. Younger people are used to it, perhaps from school where mental health professionals are  within arm’s reach. They find it easier to open up. Also, it is women who are more likely than men to take advantage of therapy. Men try to be tough,” says Fiorita, adding that does not only apply to the Polish community, but all ethnic groups and Americans too.

Many people are also genetically disposed to depression, experts say. “Depression can even strike people who are mentally very strong,” says Brozyna. “At times, just one problem or event they come across may break them down and drive them into a state of depression,” he adds. This usually concerns major events in life, for instance the death of a loved one or divorce. An example of that may have been the Polish immigrant’s suicide attempt on the Kosciuszko Bridge.

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