Abstract: Meanings of Resilience and Mental Health Among Syrian Refugees: Findings from Two Countries (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Meanings of Resilience and Mental Health Among Syrian Refugees: Findings from Two Countries

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Asli Yalim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida, FL
Background and Purpose: The majority of refugees present strengths and do not experience any psychiatric problems despite the potentially traumatic events they face. Due to excessive focus on trauma among refugee studies, there has been limited understanding of their positive adaptation following traumatic experiences. Positive functioning can be better understood when it is explored through a resilience lens studying cultures and the contexts where refugees live. Given the critical role of resilience in refugee mental health and wellbeing, this study aims to look at resilience-promoting factors within the context of navigating Syrians’ everyday lives in Istanbul and Buffalo. Two research questions inform this study: (1) What are Syrians’ pathways to resilience? (2) What are their conceptualizations of mental health?.

Methods: Four semi-structured group interviews were conducted with Syrian refugees in Istanbul (Turkey) and Buffalo (USA). A snowball sampling strategy was used to recruit participants. Each group interview consisted of six to seven participants. The interviews were conducted in Arabic through interpreters. Syrian women (N=13) and men (N=12) were interviewed separately in order to meet cultural expectations. The mean of the participants’ age was 41.12 and their ages ranged from 18 to 68 (Buffalo M=36.41; Istanbul M = 45.46). The U.S. participants lived in Buffalo for a significantly shorter time (M=19.83 month) than the participants in Istanbul (M= 46.61 month). The data analysis was iterative and consistent with a grounded theory approach. The analysis included open and focused coding. What is understood about the phenomenon was transformed into possible conceptual categories during the analysis process.

Results: To a certain extent, while daily life has become different for the two groups due to structural differences between these two locations, the sources of resilience and meanings of mental health among participants did not differ drastically. Although the future promises different opportunities and difficulties for Syrians in Turkey versus those in the United States, how they navigate challenges shows similarities. As the findings from both locations suggested, accepting reality, hope, future of children, feelings of personal safety, being with similar others, religion, and humor promote resilience among Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees’ exposure to new knowledge after their displacement has caused them to attribute new meanings to mental health. Although stigma as a cultural attitude towards mental illness still exist among Syrians, they do not present an ignorant attitude when it comes to helping a family member. It is evident that they can be more open to psychological help when their awareness and knowledge about mental health are increased.

Conclusions and Implications: When working with refugees, understanding sociocultural sources of resilience and cultural conceptualization of mental health may inform practitioners and scholars about their needs and challenges. More studies are needed beyond an analysis of resilience on the individual level (e.g., analyses of social networks, communities, policies). Although identification of culturally congruent sources of resilience is important for the development of effective models, these indicators can only be operationalized as part of interventions when supportive and facilitative environments are provided by governments for refugees.