World Refugee Day: Syrian refugee children report high anxiety levels, initial study results show - Sovereign Health Group
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06-20-17 Category: Mental Illness, Treatment

On Dec. 4, 2000, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution which stated that beginning 2001, June 20 will be designated as the World Refugee Day. In the current global scenario where violence forces hundreds of people to leave their homeland every day, the UN Refugee Agency affirms that all refugees deserve to live safely. It will launch its #WithRefugees petition on June 20 to urge governments to work together and make efforts to help refugees live a respectable and quality life.

The civil war in Syria has caused widespread destruction and affected millions of civilians forcing many to flee their country, exposing them to extremely high levels of physical and mental trauma. For children, especially those who have been separated from their families, the events can be devastating. Preliminary results of a new study indicate that high levels of anxiety are common in Syrian refugee children living in America. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in San Diego in May 2017.

For the study, a bilingual team of researchers enlisted the participation of refugees aged between 6 and 80 years. The researchers analyzed information on 59 refugee children from 20 families. The children were aged between 6 and 17 years, with an average age of around 11 years. As per the initial results, 61 percent of the children showed symptoms of possible anxiety, and more than 85 percent showed symptoms of possible separation anxiety within one month of arriving in the United States.

The results also indicated that although symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were common in all adults, mothers were found to display more of these symptoms than fathers. An association was also found between higher total anxiety scores among children and higher PTSD scores among mothers.

Past research on mental health of U.S.-domiciled refugees have largely focused on adults

Arash Javanbakht, an assistant professor and director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic in Wayne State University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and lead researcher of the study, states that the findings are indicative of the mental health challenges faced by refugee children. He explains that past research investigating the mental health of refugees domiciled in the U.S. have largely focused on the adult population. Javanbakht adds that this research, which is part of an extended study on Syrian refugees living in America, showcases preliminary data on the first set of 59 children surveyed. The researchers presently have information on nearly 500 refugees.

The refugees arriving in the U.S. are required to be medically examined for transmittable diseases within the first month of their arrival. In southeastern Michigan, the Arab-American and Chaldean Council (ACC), a not-for-profit organization providing humanitarian services to the Middle Eastern communities in the U.S., offers such health assessments.

Cynthia L. Arfken, professor and epidemiologist at Wayne State University and assistant researcher on the study, states that from the time the initial research on refugee children was conducted in late 2016, there has been an increase in the number of children participating in the study to almost 150. She adds that though research on the entire sample size is still incomplete, it appears that high levels of anxiety symptoms are consistently seen within the extended group. Arfken reveals that since the initial results were released, the school teachers have reported refugee children to be having “tremendous problems.” The separation from their parents is interfering in their chances of success in school. This necessitates further research into the problem and working out effective interventions.

High prevalence of anxiety necessitates urgent interventions

According to the researchers, the findings underscore the importance of providing additional support to Syrian refugee children, especially students, to help them overcome the trauma of escaping from their war-ravaged country. Such children are inhibited in their ability to succeed in school due to the constant desire to be with their parents and the fear of being separated from them.

Arfken explains that interventions need not be restricted to medications or psychotherapy; they can include other stress-reduction techniques such as art or dance therapy which will make the children feel safer in their new environments and also reassure parents. These approaches are particularly important given that physical health assessments are mandatory whereas screenings for mental health issues are voluntary.

Sovereign Health of San Clemente, California is a leading behavioral health care provider for those struggling with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. If you need more information on how to deal with mental illness or our mental illness treatment centers in California, please call our 24/7 helpline. Our well-trained staff members are equipped to provide evidence-based holistic and personalized treatment programs.

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