Friday, October 7, 2016

Refugees’ Mental Stresses Similar Regardless of Country of Origin, Say Experts

Refugees—no matter where they’re from or how old they are or what drove them from their homes—have faced stresses serious enough to threaten their mental well-being, said speakers at APA’s fall meeting, IPS: The Mental Health Services Conference, being held in Washington, D.C., through Sunday. They face a higher risk of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health problems.

Children are an especially high-risk group, said Gaurav Mishra, M.D., M.B.B.S., a child psychiatrist with the Imperial County (California) Behavioral Health Services, near the border with Mexico. He sees people who have come from Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as from Haiti and Africa. Many faced violence back home, separation from their parents, and exploitation or abuse on the way to the United States, said Mishra.

The county provides age-graded services for children, adolescents, and young people up to age 25 who have behavioral problems or diagnosed mental illnesses. Funding comes from California’s 1 percent tax on incomes over $1 million.

In Syria, “refugees are affected by loss of home, money, jobs, family, and friends,” said Ashley Nemiro, Ph.D. (above), the technical advisor for mental health for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Nemiro helps them to resettle in the United States. “They experience stress from the conflicts in their home country, from their displacement, and from daily life in the places where they have resettled.”

IRC screens its clients, nearly all of whom have had some experience of trauma. They have developed a variety of support systems for them. In Baltimore, community health workers visit the refugees; in Dallas, they connect with clients through a local mosque; and in Phoenix, they use high school and adult group therapy.

“It’s difficult in practice,” said Nemiro. “We need to let people tell us their stories and then help them to do the tasks of daily living themselves.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Mental Health Service Use Among Immigrants in the United States: A Systematic Review.”

(Image: Aaron Levin)


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