Emerging paradigms in the mental health care of refugees

Authors(s) : Charles WATTERS

DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(00)00284-7


Over the past decade the approaches adopted towards the mental health care of refugees by a range of national and international healthcare organisations have been the subject of a sustained and growing critique. Much of this critique has focused on the way in which Western psychiatric categories have been ascribed to refugee populations in ways which, critics argue, pay scant attention to the social, political and economic factors that play a pivotal role in refugees’ experience. Rather than portraying refugees as “passive victims” suffering mental health problems, critics have argued that attention should be given to the resistance of refugees and the ways in which they interpret and respond to experiences, challenging the external forces bearing upon them. In this paper a range of issues concerning the mental health care of refugees will be examined. These include the role of psychiatric diagnosis in relation to refugees’ own perceptions of their need and within the context of general health and social care provision. In examining services the emergence of new paradigms in mental health care is identified. These include the growth of holistic approaches that take account of refugees’ own experiences and expressed needs and which address the broader social policy contexts in which refugees are placed. A three-dimensional model for the analysis of the interrelationship between “macro” level institutional factors in the mental health of refugees and the individual treatment of refugees within mental health services is proposed.

KEY WORDS: Refugee, Trauma, Sudan, Recognition Theory, Narrative


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