Mental Health Risks and Resilience among Somali and Bhutanese Refugee Parents

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Published on 27 Oct 2016
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Overall, there are about 3 million refugees in the United States. These refugees are parents to nearly 1 million young children ages 10 and under, the vast majority of them born in the United States. At various times throughout their journey, refugees often face violence, physical danger, uncertainty that their basic needs will be met, and the daunting task of resettling in a new country. Children in refugee families may share the premigration and migration experiences of their parents, or if born after the parents are resettled, may be indirectly affected by the parents’ experiences.

This report, which focuses on children of Bhutanese and Somali refugees, examines factors that may promote or undermine the mental health and well-being of young children with refugee parents—including factors related to premigration, migration, and resettlement experiences. At the level of the individual, these factors include family structure and parental mental health, past exposure to trauma (if any), educational attainment, gender, age, employment, and student status. At the level of the community, the factors include a sense of belonging, social support, and discrimination.

This analysis is based on an exhaustive review of relevant literature and on quantitative data from two separate studies of Bhutanese and Somali refugee parents in Canada and the United States, two large, recent refugee populations that are understudied. The United States resettled 79,000 Bhutanese and 64,000 Somali refugees from fiscal year (FY) 2005 through FY 2014, and these groups together accounted for 24 percent of the 605,000 refugees resettled during those years.

It is significant that the levels of anxiety and depression reported by parents in the two samples are similar to those of the U.S. adult population overall. This indicates that although these refugee parents may have been exposed to significant trauma prior to resettlement, their mental health has been buffered by strong intimate relationships and significant community support.

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