Abstract: How Context Contributes to Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing Among Syrian Families in Lebanon (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

How Context Contributes to Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing Among Syrian Families in Lebanon

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR H, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Bree Akesson, PhD, Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford, ON, Canada
Cindy Sousa, PhD, MSW, MPH, Associate Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Dena Badawi, Graduate Research Assistant, McMaster University, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: The ongoing conflict in Syria has resulted in millions of Syrians fleeing across the border into neighboring countries. Lebanon has taken in over one million refugees, many who have experienced mental health issues ranging from PTSD to mood and anxiety disorders. Despite the profound mental health ramifications of political violence, practitioners and researchers are still developing clinical understandings of the resulting mental health sequalae. Mental health challenges resulting from the trauma of war and displacement collide with other everyday challenges, including extreme poverty, un(der)employment, discrimination, and harassment.

Methods: Drawing upon data from 351 individuals within 46 family units, the research examined the diverse experiences that contribute to the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of Syrian refugee families living in Lebanon. Data were collected using innovative methods such as collaborative family interviews, neighborhood walks, and GPS-tracked activity logging.

Results: The data were organized around three themes: economic precarity, immobility, and political insecurity. The research indicates that the contextual environment—specifically a lack of safety within families’ living environments, discrimination and harassment, an inability to access stable employment, precarious legal status in Lebanon, and immobility—are correlated with a rise in stress among family members and negative mental health outcomes. For these families, the trauma of the war in Syria was not as damaging to their mental health as the everyday challenges they face in Lebanon. At the same time, our findings indicate that hope and the family’s capacity for survival offset the negative impact of economic precarity, immobility, and political insecurity. Drawing from a strengths-based framework, the findings underscore the importance of identifying family resilience, which refugee organizations, both in Lebanon and in other locations, can draw on to strengthen both policy and practice interventions.

Conclusions and Implications: While mental health practices and policies tend to focus on trauma-related issues, the findings underscore the importance of ensuring there is a focus on the root causes of everyday stressors in settings of displacement.