Seeking Longevity for Refugees in Resettlement: Challenges and Protective Factors

Friday, January 16, 2015: 4:30 PM-6:15 PM
Balconies I, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration
Symposium Organizer:
Hyojin Im, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University
In the past ten years, 32,246 refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Iraq have arrived to the Twin Cities (MN Department of Health, 2012). Between 30 and 50% of refugees from these countries report experiencing torture and nearly all report war trauma experiences (Jaranson et al., 2004, Schweitzer, Brough, Vromans, & Asic-Kobe (2011), Tol, et al., 2010,  Willard, Rabin, and Lawless, 2013). The populations in this study have faced particularly long and violent political struggles with whole generations growing up either internally displaced or in refugee camps. Several large meta-analyses have documented the extent and duration of the mental health effects of torture and war trauma in refugee groups which may leave up to 30% of refugees struggling with chronic psychiatric disorders such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression (Fazel, Wheeler, & Danesh, 2005; Steel et al., 2009).  Longitudinal research also indicates that such diagnoses can be enduring and debilitating (Carlsson, Olsen, Mortensen, & Kastrup, 2006; Marshal, Schell, Elliot, Berthold, & Chun, 2005).

Refugees face numerous challenges to stability when resettling to the United States that may impact their long-term health as well including lack of employable skills, language differences and cultural adjustment difficulties (Morris, Popper, Rodwell, Bordine, & Bower, 2009), poverty, unsafe housing and homelessness, family violence and social isolation (Miller, 2010). Refugees may struggle to access needed health and mental health care due to lack of system knowledge, lack of interpreters and transportation, stigma and cultural beliefs about health and mental health care (Saechao et al, 2012; Shannon, O’Doughterty, & Mehta, 2012). Recent research suggests that such post-migration daily stressors moderate the impact of war trauma on the long-term mental health outcomes of refugees (Miller & Rasmussen, 2010) and that the presence of multiple post-migration stressors negatively impacts long-term adjustment (Porter & Haslam, 2005).  Demographic data indicates further that age is associated with increased pre and post migration stressors and negative mental health outcomes, however very little research has documented the resettlement experiences of refugees as they age (Perera et al, 2013). . 

This symposium presents findings from four studies focused on identifying resettlement stressors, protective factors and their impact on long-term resettlement success of refugees as they age. Paper 1 is an ethnographic exploration of resettlement stressors identified by newly arriving refugees and how they define what helps refugees do better.  The second Paper is an ethnographic study of the aging experiences of Bhutanese refugees.  The third paper presents a mixed methods study of trauma exposure and its impact on mental health in aging Karen refugees.

* noted as presenting author
Refugee Identified Stressors and Protective Factors Impacting Resettlement Success
Patricia Shannon, PhD, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Jennifer Simmelink-McCleary, PhD, Tulane University; Emily Becher, MA, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Aging Experiences of Bhutanese Refugee Elders Living in the Twin Cities
Parmananda Khatiwoda, MSW, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Wendy L. Haight, PhD, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Torture, War Trauma and Mental Health Outcomes of Aging Karen Refugees
Tonya Cook, MSW, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Gregory Vinson, PhD, Center for Victims of Torture; Patricia Shannon, PhD, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
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