The Psychology and Traumas of Refugees and Migrants Arriving in the EU.

Article by Yagmur T.

(8 mins read).

The number of people forced to leave their homes as a result of war, armed conflict, political violence, and other threats are increasing. Over 65 million people are currently displaced around the world due to war, armed conflict, or persecution, with the majority of them living in low- and lower-middle-income countries. While many of these people stay in their own country, some of them cross borders and come to the EU. 

Forcibly displaced people have had a variety of experiences, including chronic pervasive exposure to interpersonal and community violence, future uncertainty, personal or family persecution, traumatic loss of loved ones, and an insecure environment. Others have been exposed to high levels of violence for a shorter period, such as during active war. Besides, some children are recruited into the armed forces as “child soldiers,” some arrive without parents or caretakers as unaccompanied, while others leave with intact families.

While some refugees and migrants can travel by plane or train without fear of violence or danger, others have experienced long migration journeys over several countries, have been subjected to physical and sexual assault, and have been deprived of basic needs such as food, clean water, and the ability to maintain personal hygiene.

Moreover, forcibly relocated people are frequently forced to abandon all belongings except the most essential ones and say goodbye to loved ones who may be unable to join them. They may not wish to leave the environment and culture in which they were raised. As a result, these people lose not just material resources such as housing, education, food, and water access, and security, but also social relationships and cultural support.

Approximately one out of every three asylum seekers and refugees suffers from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Also, it is known that once forcibly displaced people reach the EU, they often face multiple post-migration stressors of poverty, insecure housing, unemployment, multiple moves with changes in neighborhoods, isolation, stressful legal issues, poor access to services, and general disadvantage in the host country, which can all adversely impact mental health. While most refugees and migrants with PTSD and depression heal over time, others may suffer from PTSD for years. 

As many people have experienced many losses and are grieving for the people, places, and lives that have been left behind, extreme fear and worry, outbursts of powerful emotions such as anger and sadness. They may be afraid or nervous, or they may be numb. Some people may experience things that impair their functioning and mental abilities. Also, nightmares and other sleep disorders, as well as eating problems, may be experienced by refugees and migrants. 

Prioritizing child protection and psychosocial support, particularly for separated, unaccompanied, and special-needs children is also highly essential. These children are more vulnerable to abuse, violence, and exploitation. Also, these children’s identification and registration can help to protect them and save their lives. It shouldn’t be forgotten that children need mental support as well as nourishment, safe water, rest and play, and warm clothing. Like children traveling alone; the older, people with disabilities, pregnant women, victims of torture, victims of trafficking, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and people of various sexual orientations and gender identities are among those who may be especially vulnerable.

Besides these, the lack of information is one of the key sources of stress for people on the move. Providing up-to-date information about where and how to get help can considerably lessen stress. Physical access points, radio, television, telephone, and the internet can all be used to distribute such information. All groups on the move, such as children, people with disabilities, people who do not read, and older people, must be able to understand the information. Likewise, lack of information, uncertainty about immigration status, possible hostility, changing regulations, add to the stress. Also, pre-existing social and mental health issues may be worsened. This is why strengthening their families and developing social networks that have a sense of togetherness which reduces isolation and fosters higher resilience and improved mental health is necessary. 

Due to the reasons listed above, providing mental health services to refugees and migrants should be done in collaboration with other social, cultural, and family support. This method emphasizes the impact of the environment on mental health. Clinicians can act as advocates for refugees and migrants by connecting them with psychological assistance for housing, legal help, health care, education, and employment.

Also, it should not be forgotten that this treatment should only be provided by certified clinicians, and following official regulations. The psychotherapeutic treatments should not start when follow-up sessions seem unlikely due to any reason. On the other hand, it is important to note that many refugees and migrants may be hesitant to seek mental health care due to fears that a mental health diagnosis will endanger their employment and housing and due to cultural values regarding silence/disclosure. In such cases, motivating refugees and migrants for help is necessary.

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