How refugees and asylum seekers communicate with health professionals may be influenced by their culture and beliefs

Teenage male and teenage female laughing and walking down street

Different communities may require different approaches to meet similar needs. Culturally sensitive ways of enabling people to access services are needed, and some services may need to adapt their provision to meet the needs of particular communities.

Families may not wish to discuss their needs with practitioners, or with each other. Issues of trust may be problematic if families fear that admitting they need support will impact upon their asylum claim and they will be returned home.

By developing improved cultural competence, health professionals can support access and respond better to the health needs of refugees.

Health related behaviour, on the part of both patient and health worker, is culture dependent. How, when, and what people present to practitioners will be greatly influenced by their present and prior cultural situations and expectations. It is important to be flexible and to modify therapeutic interventions to be more culturally appropriate. Practitioners need to be aware of assumptions, stereotyping and interpretations, and to work with a person on his or her own terms.

Good practice

  • Health professionals need to be aware of making assumptions and stereotyping. Interpreters, health advocates and health workers’ different cultural backgrounds can assist with details of particular health needs and culture.
  • Don’t assume that individuals follow assumed norms of a particular culture or religion – consult with people about their own needs and wishes and be flexible with support provision.
  • If possible, offer a choice of health worker and interpreters trained in health, as some families may not wish to be seen by someone of the opposite gender or someone from a different cultural or tribal background to their own.
  • People may perceive ‘mental illness’ to carry substantial stigma, particularly if it is perceived as spirit possession or divine punishment.
  • Train interpreters about the needs of asylum seeking families and the cultural perceptions of health and social care support.

Useful links