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Community Contact and Mental Health amongst Socially Isolated Refugees in Edinburgh

By Alastair Ager, M Malcolm, S Sadollah and Fiona O'May


The availability of familial and broader social networks has been proposed as a significant influence on mental health outcomes for resettling refugees. This small-scale local study considered the experience and adjustment of 26 refugees and asylum-seekers resettling in Edinburgh who had been identified as at particular risk of social isolation. While 92 per cent of refugees reported having social contact outside the home, only 19 per cent had established contacts outside refugee networks and language classes. 54 per cent of the sample scored at levels on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) indicative of a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, with 42 per cent scoring at levels indicative of a diagnosis of depression. Levels of both anxiety and depression increased with length of time in the UK. Social contacts outside the home were generally infrequent and, while their frequency was not found to be associated with lower levels of mental health symptoms, refugees themselves prioritized increased social contact above assistance with practical issues and the provision of counselling. Particular interest was expressed in contact with local individuals and groups that could serve as a ‘bridge’ into host country customs and practices. In the context of a growing literature regarding post-migratory adjustment, the study supports the vulnerability of resettling refugees (particularly those who are single) to poor mental health. While the protective influence on mental health of family linkage and wider social support was not demonstrated by findings, refugees' prioritization of needs suggests that refugee settlement following a ‘dispersal’ strategy should explicitly seek both to facilitate family and wider co-ethnic linkage and to identify mechanisms for ‘bridging’ support from indigenous, majority populations

Publisher: OUP
Year: 2002
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