There may be several factors that impact on the mental well-being of refugees, including experiences that have caused great stress. These might include torture and human rights abuses, as well as the many difficulties they may encounter as part of building a new life. Refugees may be separated from family members and be coping with uncertainty.
It is important to remember that most refugees are not suffering from mental illnesses. However their traumatic experiences can lead to refugees experiencing considerable distress. Their personal resilience and positive coping strategies will influence the extent to which any symptoms of distress are displayed.
Mental health also means different things to different people. How we each define mental health and mental illness is influenced by factors such as culture, background, values and belief systems.
Research shows that people from black and minority ethnic communities, including refugees, can suffer from inequalities in access to health services. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a duty on public sector bodies to actively seek to reduce inequalities, both in service provision and employment.
Standard One of the National Service Framework for Mental Health (Department of Health, 1999) requires health and social services to:
This area of the website provides information, guidance and case studies on positive practice in enhancing the mental health and well-being of refugees. Health professionals need to be aware of the range of circumstances impacting on refugees’ well-being, including their practical and social needs. Refugees may also not be aware of the types of care and support available for mental health needs. They may also be inhibited from using services, or find that service personnel either do not understand or cater for their needs. A further barrier may be the stigma attached to mental health issues in many refugee communities.
Through better understanding and awareness of the mental health needs of refugees, practitioners can improve refugees’ access to mental health services.
Gaining employment is a key factor in refugees’ integration, and can have a positive impact on health and well-being. Health sector employers should value the skills and experience of refugees as part of initiatives to develop a more diverse workforce. Refugees have opportunities to achieve their full potential by accessing employment, particularly in the mental health promotion and care sector.
In the NHS there is a major emphasis on user involvement in health and social care policy and practice. Delivering race equality in mental health care: An action plan for reform inside and outside services (Department of Health, 2005) supports more appropriate and responsive services and community engagement to be delivered through action to engage communities in planning services. By developing flexible and innovative approaches, in partnership with refugees and their communities, practitioners can ensure that mental health services are accessible and culturally sensitive. Involving refugees in this way enables them to contribute to the community.
The South East Migrant Health Network is not responsible for the content of external sites.