Long-term effects of organized violence on young Middle Eastern refugees’ mental health

Author : Edith MONTGOMERY



The pre- and post-displacement factors associated with psychological problems among young refugees are not clear. From the existing research it appears that refugee children and adolescents are vulnerable to the effects of pre-migration exposure to trauma, but the long-term effects of such exposure are mediated by certain risk and protective factors at the individual, family and community level. The aim of the present study was to assess the influence of traumatic experiences before emigration, as well as social life after immigration, on the mental health of young Middle Eastern refugees 8–9 years after immigration into Denmark. The study group comprises 131 young refugees (76 girls and 55 boys; mean age 15.3 years) from 67 families. They were assessed in 2000–2001 as part of a follow-up study of 311 children, who in 1992–1993 were consecutively registered in Denmark as asylum seekers with at least one parent. Predictors of more externalizing behaviour were: witnessing attack on others after arrival, more schools attended, less attending school or work, lower mother’s education in the home country and lower age. Predictors of more internalizing behaviour were: numbers of types of traumatic events before arrival, numbers of types of stressful events after arrival, and numbers of types of experiences of discrimination, lower mother’s education in the home country, fewer Danish friends, not Muslim or Christian religion, less Danish proficiency and female gender. It is concluded that aspects of social life in Denmark, including mother’s education and indicators of adaptation, as well as a stressful life context in exile, including discrimination, predicted psychological problems 8–9 years after arrival, more than traumatic experiences before arrival. Thus, the prevention of psychopathology in young refugees depends to a large extent on the political will to make provision for the necessary changes regarding reception and treatment of refugees.

Key words : refugees, mental health, adolescents, organized violence, Middle East, Denmark

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