Identification of health risk behaviours among adolescent refugees resettling in Western Australia

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Abstract

Objective

Adolescent refugees encounter traumatic stressors and are at risk of developing psychosocial health problems; limited research data exist internationally. This study aims to identify health risk behaviours among adolescent refugees resettling in Western Australia and assess the feasibility of using a standardised adolescent health questionnaire for this purpose.

Design

Refugees aged 12 years and above attending a tertiary Refugee Health Service (RHS) were recruited over 12 months. Sociodemographic data were collected. Psychosocial assessments based on the ‘Home, Education/Eating, Activities, Drugs, Sexuality, Suicide/mental health’ (HEADSS) framework were undertaken utilising interpreters where required. Health concerns identified were managed through the RHS.

Results

A total of 122 adolescents (20 ethnicities) participated; 65% required interpreters. Median age (range) was 14 (12–17) years. Most (80%) had nuclear family separation. Almost half (49%) had a deceased/missing family member. A third (37%) had lived in refugee camps and 20% had experienced closed detention. The median time (range) since arrival in Australia was 11 (2–86) months. Every adolescent had at least one health concern identified during the psychosocial assessment. Frequency of health concerns identified in each domain were 87% for home, 66% for education, 23% for eating, 93% for activities, 5% for drugs, 88% for sexuality and 61% for suicide/mental health. Most adolescents (75%) required intervention, consisting of counselling for health risk behaviours and/or referral to health or community services.

Conclusion

It is feasible to use a standardised adolescent health questionnaire to identify health risk behaviours among a cohort of ethnically diverse adolescent refugees. Use of the questionnaire identified a large burden of psychosocial health issues requiring multidisciplinary intervention.

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