Separation from family and its impact on the mental health of Sudanese refugees in Australia: a qualitative study

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Abstract

Objective:

This study explored the impact of separation from family members on the mental health and wellbeing of Sudanese refugees in Australia, and the coping strategies used.

Methods:

In-depth interviews were conducted with Sudanese community representatives and health workers, primary and mental health care practitioners, health service managers and policy makers. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results:

Separation was perceived as having a negative impact on the mental health of Sudanese refugees in Australia, and manifested in concern about the safety of relatives abroad and in changing roles. The pressure to send money home emerged as a high priority for Sudanese refugees, often superseding local concerns. Several strategies were used to bridge the separation gap, including maintaining contact through the use of information communication technologies, and family-reunification.

Conclusions:

Separation from family can be an ongoing source of stress and sadness among refugees in countries such as Australia. While resettling refugees are actively taking steps to cope with the impact of separation, awareness of the issue in mainstream services appears to be low.

Implications:

Separation from family continues to affect refugees’ lives in countries of resettlement. While it may be difficult to alter the course of the monumental circumstances that cause forced migration, service providers can support refugees’ coping abilities by understanding these global-local intersections.

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