Exploring community capacity: Karen refugee women’s mental health

Author(s): Nancy CLARK



The purpose of this paper is to describe Karen refugee women’s experience of resettlement and the factors which structured community capacity to support their mental health and well-being.

A postcolonial and feminist standpoint was used to bring Karen women’s voice to the knowledge production process. Data were collected through ethnographic field observation, in-depth semi-structured individual and focus group interviews with Karen women as well as healthcare and social service providers.

Three interrelated themes emerged from the data: Karen women’s construction of mental health as “stress and worry”; gender, language and health literacy intersected, shaping Karen women’s access to health care and social resources; flexible partnerships between settlement agencies, primary care and public health promoted community capacity but were challenged by neoliberalism.

Karen women and families are a diverse group with a unique historical context. Not all the findings are applicable across refugee women.

This paper highlights the social determinants of mental health for Karen women and community responses for mitigating psychological distress during resettlement.

Public health policy requires a contextualized understanding of refugee women’s mental health. Health promotion in resettlement must include culturally safe provision of health care to mitigate sources of psychological distress during resettlement.

This research brings a postcolonial and feminist analysis to community capacity as a public health strategy.


Keywords: Community capacity, Mental health, Gender, Intersectionality, Structural violence, Cultural safety, Karen women, Postcolonial feminist

Tags: Myanmar, Canada, Refugees, Women, Psychological distress, Resettlement, Community, Gender, Access to mental health care

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