Refugee Mental Health

Refugee Mental Health
Refugees are survivors. Their journeys here are testaments to courage, hope, faith, love and the resilience of the human spirit. We encourage providers to “walk together” with their refugee clients in helping them transition to their new lives. In this way, both providers and refugees learn from, and are inspired by, each other.

Most refugees resettle with some expectation, however vague, of what life is like in the U.S. Almost always, refugees find that life is different, and harder, than they had imagined. With this realization often come feelings of fear, anger, hopelessness, and regret. It is common for refugees to have a honeymoon period when first entering the U.S., followed by a period of disappointment and despair, and then eventually progress toward adjustment. The different phases of the transition can be summarized as follows:

  • HONEYMOON - In this phase refugees have typically just arrived in their new country and are very hopeful that their lives will soon improve.
  • CULTURE SHOCK - Confronting a huge array of challenges, refugees realize that life here is not what they thought it would be and is often much harder than they expected. Culture shock can happen at any time during the first year.
  • ADJUSTMENT - Refugees begin to adjust to the idea of being in the United States. Their new surroundings become more familiar and less scary. People learn how the “system” works and often find things here they like.
  • INTEGRATION - People begin to identify as being both American AND from their culture of origin.

This process of adjustment doesn’t have a fixed duration and often reoccurs many, many times over a person’s life. Refugees may feel they have adjusted and then a major life event happens such as a marriage, birth or funeral, throwing them back into culture shock and forcing another period of adjustment.*

*Information provided from Walking Together: A Mental Health Therapist's Guide to Working With Refugees - Lutheran Community Services Northwest