Lesson 2 Mental Health

Lesson 2a: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.

Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event and can be classified into four groups:

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  • intrusive memories;
  • avoidance;
  • negative changes in thinking and mood;
  • changes in physical and emotional reactions.

Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.

PTSD can arise not only from the conditions that led an immigrant to leave its home country (e.g. war, conflicts, poverty), but also from their experiences in the new country (e.g. unemployment, social exclusion).

Children, even when they have not directly experienced traumatic events, can be affected by stories that parents and other family members recall and retell.

Lesson 2b: Depression

Immigrants report significantly more depressive symptoms mainly due to their lower socioeconomic status.

Unemployment, isolation and the long wait in the asylum application process are directly related with depression.

  • sleep problems (e.g. insomnia);
  • headaches;
  • sexual problems;
  • aching muscles and joints;
  • restless;
  • back pain;
  • changes in appetite or weight;
  • digestive problems;
  • chest pain.

How does untreated depression affect the human body?

  • feelings of sadness or emptiness;
  • trouble with memory or decisions;
  • risk of heart attack;
  • weight fluctuations;
  • fatigue;
  • weakened immune system;
  • insomnia;
  • preoccupation with death;
  • feelings of clinginess;
  • constricted blood vessels;
  • increased pain sensitivity;
  • lower interest in sex.

Lesson 2c: Anxiety

The majority of refugees and immigrants are repeatedly exposed to stress and traumatic events in their home country and during their journey to safer areas.

Anxiety disorders are estimated to be present in 1–2 out of 10 refugees.

Making sure that refugees and immigrants achieve social integration in host countries can be regarded as potentially the most influential prevention strategy for mental disorders on a public health level.

Risk Factors

Before resettlement:

wars and other forms of armed conflict, persecution, discrimination or natural disasters before the departure from their countries.

During resettlement:

unemployment, loneliness, uncertainty about asylum procedures and the future, limited access to food and/or medical care.

After resettlement:

concern about the fate of their families, regardless of whether the families immigrated with them or stayed in the country of origin.