The experience of migration can have significant impacts upon the mental health of those seeking asylum in another country and on their families

Teenage male sitting on a bench looking sad

Separation from family members and their community; feeling unwelcome in the host community; prolonged or severe suffering prior to exile; lacking knowledge of the host language and the loss of socio-economic status can all have a compounding negative effect upon the mental well-being of refugees - including children and young people.

Different perceptions­ of mental health can also have an impact upon the person accessing support. The idea of talking to a psychiatrist, who is a stranger, about feelings may be a completely alien concept, particularly where there may be associations between mental health issues and ‘madness’ and ’witchcraft’.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological and physical condition that can be caused by extremely frightening or distressing events.

PTSD can occur after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events such as military combat; natural disasters; serious accidents; terrorist attacks; violent deaths; personal assaults including rape and other situations in which the person experiences extreme fear, horror or helplessness.

PTSD could be a result of something that happened in the person’s home country or during their migration. However it can also be commonly due to the isolation, hostility, violence, and racism that many refugees experience in their country of resettlement re-igniting past traumas and resulting in PTSD.

Therefore it is important to recognise that post­traumatic stress disorder is not in itself an indicator of past torture but could be due to many different experiences linked with migration.

Symptoms can include:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Avoidance and numbing
  • Being 'on guard'
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Alcohol misuse
  • Substance misuse (including painkillers)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Irritability and feeling angry
  • Problems concentrating 

Good practice for supporting those with mental health needs including PTSD

  1. Families should be consulted about their needs and culturally appropriate leaflets should be provided
  2. Referral should be made to counselling services, a community psychiatric nurse, a psychologist or a psychiatrist
  3. Remember that families may be extremely anxious about the security of personal information in case they are deported to their home country
  4. Explain the type of service you are referring them to and the services they offer
  5. Provide information materials about the rights and entitlements of the families
  6. Children should not be expected to interpret­ for a family member during counselling and therapy sessions. Use trained and accredited interpreters­ during sessions.

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