Imagine having to abandon everything you’ve ever known because if you don’t you may die. This is what many people face when they flee their countries. As the Syrian refugee situation continues in Europe and appears to be heading to the United States soon, now is as good a time as any to understand the impact that being a refugee can have on one’s mental health.
Hardships of refugees
Experiencing life as a refugee can leave a deep impression on a person’s psyche due to a number of factors. For one, many refugees are fleeing from violence, including genocide, persecution, sexual violence, murder of loved ones or children being forced into becoming soldiers. Many refugees often face the horror of having to flee from violent circumstances, as a study of Somali refugees in 2003 found at least 73.5 percent of them had seen a dead or mutilated body (Onyut L., et. al. 2009).
Even once the danger has been left behind, refugees usually face further physical hardship. They often have to travel without food or water for long periods of time to distant refugee camps. What’s worse, even when a camp is found, conditions may be poor, and food and water may still be scarce.
Mental health of refugees
The circumstances refugees usually face can lead to the development of mental health disorders. The most common mental illnesses that a refugee may suffer are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The risk factors for developing PTSD include displacement, facing threats to one’s life, economic hardship and more, which is why there is little surprise that so many refugees suffer this disorder. One survey conducted among Sudanese refugees found that more than half of them were dealing with PTSD. What’s worse is that even once all is settled, these mental problems won’t simply disappear. According to a RAND Health study, around 62 percent of Cambodian refugees in the U.S. struggled with PTSD, while 51 percent had depression twenty years after fleeing from their homeland.
Many different news organizations and even some independent art websites like Humans of New York are covering the current refugee situation and their background stories, many of which include horrific tales of homes being burned down, loved ones being taken and killed and even children being kidnapped. These people are facing situations that cause mental health disorders. Those willing to help should learn more about the needs of individuals in these circumstances to lower their risk of developing long-lasting mental health problems.
In cases where a mental health disorder like depression or PTSD has developed, it can help to seek further aid. Contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline today to learn more about treatment programs for mental health.