Demoralisation syndrome does not explain the psychological profile of community-based asylum-seekers

Author(s): Debbie HOCKING, Suresh SUNDRAM


Background: Demoralisation syndrome (DS) has been advanced as a construct that features hopelessness, meaninglessness, and existential distress. Demoralisation and DS have predominantly been considered secondary only to illness; hence there is scant research on demoralisation or DS in populations affected by extreme environmental stress. Aims: The current study aimed to determine the prevalence of demoralisation, its predictors, and the relevance of DS in a community-based forced-migrant population. Method: A convenience sample of 131 adult asylum-seekers (n = 98) and refugees (n = 33) without recognised mental disorders in Melbourne, Australia, were assessed cross-sectionally on posttraumatic stress, anxiety, depression, post-migration stress, and demoralisation. Socio-demographic data were analysed with relevant clinical data. Predictive aims were investigated using bivariate statistical tests and exploratory aims were investigated using correlational and linear regression analyses. Results: Seventy nine percent of the sample met criteria for demoralisation (asylum-seekers = 83%; refugees = 66%), with asylum-seekers being 2.55 (95% C.I. = 1.03–6.32, Z = 2.03, p = .04) times more likely to be demoralised than refugees. No relationship between demoralisation and time in the refugee determination process emerged. The regression model explained 47.5% of variance in demoralisation scores for the total sample F(9,111) = 13.07, p <.0001, with MDD and anxiety score making unique significant contributions. Conclusions: Demoralisation was widespread through the asylum-seeker and refugee population and its prevalence was attributable to a range of social and psychiatric factors. However, DS had little explanatory power for psychiatric morbidity, which was more suggestive of a pan-distress symptom complex.

Tags: Demoralisation syndrome, Asylum seekers, Australia

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