Plain Language Summary: Considerations to Improve Services for Refugees with Disabilities and Mental Health Concerns

Refugees are people who leave their country for their safety. Many things can prompt this, including discrimination and war in their country. Refugees live in temporary settlements before settling in a new country. Many refugees are placed in cities before settling in a new country, and others go to refugee camps. Refugee camps are meant to meet immediate needs of people fleeing their country. Refugees can experience very difficult living circumstances when living in refugee camps.

The United States has resettled millions of refugees since 1975. The number of refugees welcomed is decided by the President. Refugees can get help from the government once they have arrived in the United States. Examples are help with getting food, housing, childcare, medical care, and other services.

Many refugees have experienced trauma and abuse. People can also continue facing difficulties while they adjust to life in a new country. Trauma, stress, and going through so many changes contribute to mental health challenges. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder are common diagnoses among refugees. Refugees also have high rates of suicide.

It can be challenging to provide mental health supports for refugees. When people have different languages and cultural backgrounds it can make communication difficult. One way to provide better supports is to use a cultural broker. This is a person who helps translate and teaches the provider about the culture. They can also help refugees understand their mental health more and reduce stigma. Providers should learn about different cultures and consider how mental health concerns can be viewed differently. This is an important step to take even before trying to make a diagnosis. Understanding the person’s view on mental health can help them feel comfortable and talk more openly. Another good strategy is to work with providers with different skills and knowledge.

Refugees who have disabilities can face extra challenges that affect their mental health. Their mental health can be improved through ways other than mental health services. Making sure refugees access employment services and cultural and language education early can help. Informing refugees with disabilities about academic accommodations can also be helpful.

For resources and more information, check out our Considerations to Improve Services for Refugees with Disabilities and Mental Health Concerns fact sheet.

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