Common Refugee Stressors
Refugee children and youth are particularly vulnerable to mental health related issues. The reasons for this are many and complex, but there are three main stressors commonly experienced by refugees that pose mental health risks.
1. TRAUMATIC STRESS – refers to the stressors associated with exposure to traumatic events or situations. Many refugees have come from circumstances in which they were exposed to pervasive experiences that threatened their sense of safety and well-being. Some may have experienced imprisonment, disapppearance of family members, being forced to inflict pain or to kill others, malnutrition, exposure to disease and lack of medical care, loss of home and other personal property, repeated relocation, physical assault (beating, rape, torture), fear of unexpected arrest, harassment by police or soldiers, and/or living underground with a false identity.
2. MIGRATION STRESS – refers to the stress associated with moving from a familiar environment into one that is new and unfamiliar. With this move most often comes the loss of friends, family, community, and other sources of comfort and security. These losses are extreme and pose significant stressors to refugees even as they leave war torn and violent circumstances. Most refugees seek “safety” in refugee camps as they await governmental processing for resettlement. Unfortunately, the refugee camps to which they flee are plagued by some of the very same stressors they experienced in their homelands. People in refugee camps are vulnerable to high levels of violence (including rape and assault), illness and disease, starvation and malnutrition, and separation from family members.
3. ACCULTURATION STRESS – refers to the stressors associated with having to adapt to new and unfamiliar norms, rules, and routines once resettlement has occurred. Focused on relocating to “a better life,” many refugees do not expect the stressors that follow relocation. Among these, language differences pose one of the most significant barriers. Additionally, after arrival in the United States, refugees often experience significant identity issues related to family role reversals, loss of livelihood, conflicts in values with their resettled community, discrimination, and social isolation. Transporation limitations pose significant barriers as does inadequate housing, as refugees are often housed in low income and high crime areas.