Written by Josh McLuckie – Volunteer at ACAA
October 10th marks World Mental Health Day, a day recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and dedicated to bringing attention to issues surrounding mental health.
Beyond the often highly traumatic journeys undergone by many refugees to reach safety, the difficulties of integrating into an alien society bring their own threats to mental well-being. One psychologist has highlighted the ‘triple trauma’ experienced by many refugees – the extreme traumas of leaving, the physical journey itself and the struggle to integrate into a new society. These ‘post-migration stressors’ can include difficulties in cultural adjustment, as well as communication difficulties owing to the language barriers, and the issue of acceptance by the receiving society.
The mental health of refugees is something that is being paid increasing amounts of attention, owing in large part to the successes of initiatives such as Mental Health Day. For example, the theme of last year’s Mental Health Day was ‘Psychological First Aid’, with the Refugee Council teaming up with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and the British Psychoanalytical Council to sharpen focus onto the mental health needs of refugees displaced during the 2016 refugee crisis.
At the ACAA, we’re working hard to understand the mental health needs of women from refugee communities and provide the necessary support. Based on reports from attendees at our Tea Corner or Zanan project meetings, we learnt that almost all of the women were experiencing depression, stress, anxiety and social isolation to varying degrees, with not speaking English, not knowing anyone in the community and a lack of specialist Afghan support groups highlighted as major causes.
“I was depressed, stressed and isolated at home, and I didn’t know how to handle it… Through these meetings I have been able to discuss and share my feelings to get support.”
The ACAA provides English classes for women at our Saturday Tea Corner meetings, with the aim of breaking down the communication barriers that foster feelings of isolation, as well as providing a friendly, positive environment for women to boost self-confidence. Past workshops in Tea Corner meetings have tackled mental health issues directly, while the sense of community that has developed among the women now serves as an important buffer against worsening mental well-being.
The recently introduced Safe Return policy is likely to generate even more uncertainty for refugees in the future. After 5 years of living in the UK, the situation in a refugee’s country of origin will be reassessed and if deemed to be ‘safe’, the UK will move to return that individual, as opposed to granting them permanent residence. In line with research highlighting the contribution of high uncertainty during the asylum procedure to poor mental well-being, the Safe Return policy is likely to work against the efforts of many refugees to successfully integrate by making it that much more difficult to feel settled. Therefore, we think it’s essential to continue having open and frank discussions, via initiatives such as Mental Health Day, about mental health and the struggles which many refugees face regarding mental well-being.