The impact of fear for family on mental health in a resettled Iraqi refugee community

ArticleinJournal of Psychiatric Research 44(4):229-35 · October 2009with 338 Reads
Abstract
The current study aimed to evaluate the impact of fear for family remaining in the country of origin and under potential threat on the mental health of refugees. Adult Mandaean refugees (N=315) from Iraq, living in Sydney, Australia, were interviewed regarding fear for family in Iraq, fear of genocide, pre-migration trauma, post-migration living difficulties and psychological outcomes. Participants with immediate family in Iraq reported higher levels of symptoms of PTSD and depression, and greater mental health-related disability than those without family in Iraq. Intrusive fears about family independently predicted risk of PTSD, depression and disability after controlling for trauma exposure and current living difficulties. Threat to family members living in a context of ongoing threat predicted psychopathology and disability in Mandaean refugees. The effect of ongoing threat to family still living in conflict-ridden countries on the mental health of refugees should be further considered in the context of healthcare.

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    The paper reviews and considers the existing cognitive and behavioral accounts for the acquisition and maintenance of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mowrer's two-stage theory as applied to rape victims and Vietnam veterans is critically reviewed. It was concluded that traditional S-R learning theories can adequately account for fear and avoidance consequent to a traumatic event, as well as the greater generalization as compared to simple phobics. However, these theories do not explain the remaining PTSD symptoms. The literature on experimental neurosis predicts that uncontrollable and unpredictable events produce responses that are highly reminiscent of PTSD irrespective of stimulus intensity and complexity. An additional shortcoming of S-R theory is the difficulty in incorporating meaning concepts which are so central to PTSD. Evidence for the necessity of a theory to accommodate meaning concepts is the finding that perceived threat is a better predictor of PTSD than actual threat. Therefore, we have presented a theoretical framework developed by Foa & Kozak (1986) which accommodates meaning concepts in explaining mechanisms of fear reduction and adapted this theory to PTSD.
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    Compared to research on displaced persons whose refugee status has been endorsed prior to arriving in Western countries, there is little systematic information available about levels of past trauma, postmigration living difficulties and psychiatric symptoms amongst asylum-seekers who claim refugee status only after arrival. Asylum-seekers, authorized refugees and immigrants of Tamil background were recruited by personal contact and mail-out in Sydney, Australia. A total of 62 subjects, constituting approximately 60% of the estimated pool of Tamil asylum-seekers, agreed to participate in the study. They returned statistically significantly higher scores than immigrants (n = 104) on measures of past trauma, symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress, and on all dimensions of postmigration difficulties. Asylum-seekers did not differ from refugees (n = 30) on measures of past trauma or psychiatric symptoms, but they scored higher on selective components of postmigration stress relating to difficulties associated with their insecure residency status. Although limited by sampling and diagnostic constraints, the present study suggests that asylum-seekers may be a high-risk group in relation to ongoing stress in the postmigration period.
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    Refugees who have suffered traumatic events present complex therapeutic challenges to health professionals. There is little research into post-exile factors that may be amenable to change, and therefore reduce morbidity. We examined the importance of social factors in exile and of trauma factors in producing the different elements of psychological sequelae of severe trauma. Eighty-four male Iraqi refugees were interviewed. Adverse events and level of social support were measured. Various measures of psychological morbidity were applied, all of which have been used in previous trauma research. Social factors in exile, particularly the level of "affective" social support, proved important in determining the severity of both post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive reactions, particularly when combined with a severe level of trauma/torture. Poor social support is a stronger predictor of depressive morbidity than trauma factors. Some of the most important factors in producing psychological morbidity in refugees may be alleviated by planned, integrated rehabilitation programmes and attention to social support and family reunion.
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    There are no valid and reliable cross-cultural instruments capable of measuring torture, trauma, and trauma-related symptoms associated with the DSM-III-R diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Generating such standardized instruments for patients from non-Western cultures involves particular methodological challenges. This study describes the development and validation of three Indochinese versions of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ), a simple and reliable screening instrument that is well received by refugee patients and bicultural staff. It identifies for the first time trauma symptoms related to the Indochinese refugee experience that are associated with PTSD criteria. The HTQ's cultural sensitivity may make it useful for assessing other highly traumatized non-Western populations.
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    Dimensions of client participation in psychotherapy were assessed to investigate whether participation is unidimensional or multidimensional, stable over therapy, and/or related to measures of psychotherapy outcome. Participation dimensions included compliance with scheduling (lateness, rescheduling, no-show) and with homework assignments (completion of a daily diary and relaxation home-practice), reported acceptance of the credibility of therapy rationale, satisfaction with global and specific aspects of therapy, expectation of personal improvement in anxiety symptomatology, self-rated engagement in therapy activities, and reported judgments about therapist characteristics and relationship qualities. Outcome measures included assessor ratings, daily client self-report of anxiety severity, and questionnaire measures. Subjects were 30 clients participating in a 12-session generalized anxiety disorder comparative treatment study in which they receive progressive relaxation training plus either cognitive therapy or nondirective therapy. Across clients in both treatment groups, behavioral compliance measures were poorly intercorrelated and unrelated to the other participation measures. Canonical correlation of participation variables with change on pre-post outcome measures showed a significant relationship between some participation variables representing satisfaction with specific aspects of therapy and the therapeutic relationship and improvement in daily level of subjective anxiety.
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    Context Evidence is emerging that psychiatric disorders are common in populations affected by mass violence. Previously, we found associations among depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and disability in a Bosnian refugee cohort. Objective To investigate whether previously observed associations continue over time and are associated with mortality emigration to another region. Design, Setting, and Participants Three-year follow-up study conducted in 1999 among 534 adult Bosnian refugees originally living in a refugee camp in Croatia. At follow-up, 376 (70.4%) remained living in the region, 39 (7.3%) were deceased, 114 (21.3%) had emigrated, and 5 (1%) were lost to follow-up. Those still living in the region and the families of the deceased were reinterviewed (77.7% of the original participants). Main Outcome Measures Depression and PTSD diagnoses, based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria and measured by the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 and the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, respectively; disability, measured by the Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form 20; and cause of death, determined by family interviews with review of death certificates, if available. Results In 1999, 45% of the original respondents who met the DSM-IV criteria for depression, PTSD, or both continued to have these disorders and 16% of respondents who were asymptomatic in 1996 developed 1 or both disorders. Forty-six percent of those who initially met disability criteria remained disabled. Log-linear analysis revealed that disability and psychiatric disorder were related at both times. Male sex, isolation from family, and older age were associated with increased mortality after adjusting for demographic characteristics, trauma history, and health status (for male sex, adjusted odds ratio [OR], 2.63; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.17-5.92; living alone, OR, 2.40; 95% CI, 1.07-5.38; and each 10-year increase in age, OR, 1.91; 95% CI, 1.34-2.71). Depression was associated with higher mortality in unadjusted analysis but was not after statistical adjustment (unadjusted OR, 3.12; 95% CI, 1.55-6.26; adjusted OR, 1.85; 95% CI, 0.82-4.16). Posttraumatic stress disorder was not associated with mortality or emigration. Spending less than 12 months in the refugee camp (OR, 11.30; 95% CI, 6.55-19.50), experiencing 6 or more trauma events (OR, 3.34; 95% CI, 1.89-5.91), having higher education (OR, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.10-3.29), and not having an observed handicap (OR, 0.11; 95% CI, 0.02-0.52) were associated with higher likelihood of emigration. Depression was not associated with emigration status. Conclusions Former Bosnian refugees who remained living in the region continued to exhibit psychiatric disorder and disability 3 years after initial assessment. Social isolation, male sex, and older age were associated with mortality. Healthier, better educated refugees were more likely to emigrate. Further research is necessary to understand the associations among depression, emigration status, and mortality over time.
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    The prevalence and course of mental disorders among Vietnamese refugees were studied, using a model including variables from different research traditions. A consecutive community cohort of 145 Vietnamese boat refugees aged 15 and above were personally interviewed on their arrival in Norway and three years later. Three years later, there was, unexpectedly, no decline in self-rated psychological distress (SCL-90-R), almost one in four suffered from psychiatric disorder and the prevalence of depression was 17.7% (Present State Examination). Female gender, extreme traumatic stress in Vietnam, negative life events in Norway, lack of a close confidant and chronic family separation were identified as predictors of psychopathology. The effects of war and persecution were long-lasting, and compounded by adversity factors in exile. A uniform course of improvement in mental health after resettlement cannot be expected in all contexts. The affected refugees need systematic rehabilitation.
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    The nature of traumatic memories is currently the subject of intense scientific investigation. While some researchers have described traumatic memory as fixed and indelible, others have found it to be malleable and subject to substantial alteration. The current study is a prospective investigation of memory for serious combat-related traumatic events in veterans of Operation Desert Storm. Fifty-nine National Guard reservists from two separate units completed a 19-item trauma questionnaire about their combat experiences 1 month and 2 years after their return from the Gulf War. Responses were compared for consistency between the two time points and correlated with level of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There were many instances of inconsistent recall for events that were objective and highly traumatic in nature. Eighty-eight percent of subjects changed their responses on at least one of the 19 items, while 61% changed two or more items. There was a significant positive correlation between score on the Mississippi Scale for Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at 2 years and the number of responses on the trauma questionnaire changed from no at 1 month to yes at 2 years. These findings do not support the position that traumatic memories are fixed or indelible. Further, the data suggest that as PTSD symptoms increase, so does amplification of memory for traumatic events. This study raises questions about the accuracy of recall for traumatic events, as well as about the well-established but retrospectively determined relationship between level of exposure to trauma and degree of PTSD symptoms.
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    Research into the mental health of refugees has burgeoned in recent times, but there is a dearth of studies focusing specifically on the factors associated with psychiatric distress in asylum-seekers who have not been accorded residency status. Forty consecutive asylum-seekers attending a community resource centre in Sydney, Australia, were interviewed using structured instruments and questionnaires. Anxiety scores were associated with female gender, poverty, and conflict with immigration officials, while loneliness and boredom were linked with both anxiety and depression. Thirty subjects (79%) had experienced a traumatic event such as witnessing killings, being assaulted, or suffering torture and captivity, and 14 subjects (37%) met full criteria for PTSD. A diagnosis of PTSD was associated with greater exposure to pre-migration trauma, delays in processing refugee applications, difficulties in dealing with immigration officials, obstacles to employment, racial discrimination, and loneliness and boredom. Although based on correlational data derived from'a convenient' sample, our findings raise the possibility that current procedures for dealing with asylum-seekers may contribute to high levels of stress and psychiatric symptoms in those who have been previously traumatised.
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    Most of the world's refugees are displaced within the developing world. The impact of torture on such refugees is unknown. To examine the impact of torture on Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Case-control survey. Interviews were conducted by local physicians and included demographics, questions related to the torture experienced, a checklist of 40 medical complaints, and measures of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Bhutanese refugee community in the United Nations refugee camps in the Terai in eastern Nepal. A random sample of 526 tortured refugees and a control group of 526 nontortured refugees matched for age and sex. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Revised Third Edition (DSM-III-R) criteria for PTSD and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL-25) for depression and anxiety. The 2 groups were similar on most demographic variables. The tortured refugees, as a group, suffered more on 15 of 17 DSM-III-RPTSD symptoms (P<.005) and had higher HSCL-25 anxiety and depression scores (P<.001) than nontortured refugees. Logistic regression analysis showed that history of torture predicted PTSD symptoms (odds ratio [OR], 4.6; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.7-8.0), depression symptoms (OR, 1.9; 95% CI, 1.4-2.6), and anxiety symptoms (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.1-1.9). Torture survivors who were Buddhist were less likely to be depressed (OR, 0.5; 95% CI, 0.3-0.9) or anxious (OR, 0.7; 95% CI, 0.4-1.0). Those who were male were less likely to experience anxiety (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.44-1.00). Tortured refugees also presented more musculoskeletal system- and respiratory system-related complaints (P<.001 for both). Torture plays a significant role in the development of PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms among refugees from Bhutan living in the developing world.
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    Data from general population surveys (n = 1483 to 9151) in nine European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) were analyzed to cross-validate the selection of questionnaire items for the SF-12 Health Survey and scoring algorithms for 12-item physical and mental component summary measures. In each country, multiple regression methods were used to select 12 SF-36 items that best reproduced the physical and mental health summary scores for the SF-36 Health Survey. Summary scores then were estimated with 12 items in three ways: using standard (U.S.-derived) SF-12 items and scoring algorithms; standard items and country-specific scoring; and country-specific sets of 12 items and scoring. Replication of the 36-item summary measures by the 12-item summary measures was then evaluated through comparison of mean scores and the strength of product-moment correlations. Product-moment correlations between SF-36 summary measures and SF-12 summary measures (standard and country-specific) were very high, ranging from 0.94-0.96 and 0.94-0.97 for the physical and mental summary measures, respectively. Mean 36-item summary measures and comparable 12-item summary measures were within 0.0 to 1.5 points (median = 0.5 points) in each country and were comparable across age groups. Because of the high degree of correspondence between summary physical and mental health measures estimated using the SF-12 and SF-36, it appears that the SF-12 will prove to be a practical alternative to the SF-36 in these countries, for purposes of large group comparisons in which the focus is on overall physical and mental health outcomes.
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    The dose-effect relationships of cumulative trauma to the psychiatric symptoms of major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a community study of Cambodian survivors of mass violence were evaluated. In 1990, a survey of 1000 households was conducted in a Thai refugee camp (Site 2) using a multi-stage random sampling design. Trauma history and psychiatric symptoms were assessed for two time periods. Analysis used linear dose-response regression modelling. 993 Cambodian adults reported a mean of 14 Pol Pot era trauma events and 1.3 trauma events during the past year. Symptom categories of depression, PTSD, dissociative and culturally dependent symptoms exhibited strong dose-effect responses with the exception of avoidance. All symptom categories, except avoidant symptoms, were highly correlated. Cumulative trauma continued to affect psychiatric symptom levels a decade after the original trauma events. The diagnostic validity of PTSD criteria, with the notable exception of avoidance, was supported. Inclusion of dissociative and culturally dependent symptoms increased the cultural sensitivity of PTSD.
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    The relationship between psychiatric symptoms and disability in refugee survivors of mass violence is not known. To determine if risk factors, such as demographics, trauma, health status, and psychiatric illness, are associated with disability in Bosnian refugees. Cross-sectional survey conducted in 1996 of Bosnian refugee adults living in a camp established by the Croatian government near the city of Varazdin. One adult aged 18 years or older was randomly selected from each of 573 camp families; 534 (93%) agreed to participate (mean age, 50 years; 41% male). Culturally validated measures for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) included the Hopkins Symptom Checklist 25 and the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, respectively. Disability measures included the Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form 20, a physical functioning scale based on World Health Organization criteria, and self-reports of socioeconomic activity, levels of physical energy, and perceived health status. Respondents reported a mean (SD) of 6.5 (4.7) unduplicated trauma events; 18% (n=95) had experienced 1 or more torture events. While 55.2% reported no psychiatric symptoms, 39.2% and 26.3% reported symptoms that meet DSM-IV criteria for depression and PTSD, respectively; 20.6% reported symptoms comorbid for both disorders. A total of 25.5% reported having a disability. Refugees who reported symptoms comorbid for both depression and PTSD were associated with an increased risk for disability compared with asymptomatic refugees (unadjusted odds ratio [OR], 5.02; 95% confidence interval [CI], 3.05-8.26; adjusted OR, 2.06; 95% CI, 1.10-3.86). Older age, cumulative trauma, and chronic medical illness were also associated with disability. In a population of Bosnian refugees who had recently fled from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, psychiatric comorbidity was associated with disability independent of the effects of age, trauma, and health status.
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    Path analysis was used to examine the antecedents of posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms in Tamil asylum-seekers, refugees, and immigrants in Australia. The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire and a postmigration living difficulties questionnaire were completed by 62 asylum-seekers, 30 refugees, and 104 immigrants who responded to a mail-out. Demographic characteristics, residency status, and measures of trauma and postmigration stress were fitted to a structural model in PTS symptoms. Premigration trauma exposure accounted for 20% of the variance of PTS symptoms. Postmigration stress contributed 14% of the variance. Although limited by sampling constraints and retrospective measurement, the study supports the notion that both traumatic and posttraumatic events contribute to the expression of PTS symptoms.