In American politics it is common to discuss refugees as if they are just other immigrants. This ignores the fact that refugees have gone through some of the worst trauma a human can imagine. Refugees are not coming because they are looking for something better but because they are fleeing something horrible.
The lifetime prevalence for PTSD in the U.S. is only 3.6% for males and 9.1% for females but for refugees the number is 37%. To put these numbers into perspective, the problems with PTSD in soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq has become a national issue, but only 13.8% experienced PTSD compared to the 37% for refugees. If we go back farther the Vietnam war is know as one of the most brutal modern wars and caused massive mental health problems in the veterans that returned. The percentage of veterans that served in Vietnam that experienced PTSD was only 30%. It is important to also remember when looking at these numbers a large portion of them are children that we can not expect to be able to handle PTSD and the trauma that created it.
Refugees not only have a high rate of PTSD due to the trauma that they have experienced but they do not have access to normal support systems like other people do. In the soldiers’ examples they go home and are able to use their family, community, and other support structures in the home. Refugees have left all of that behind. They are in a foreign land with a different culture and no societal connection to where they are. Below is a diagram that illustrates how refugees have a difficult time integrating with a host nation due to the trauma they have experienced. It also shows how, even if they are able to identify with a minority subset of the host nation’s culture, this too can cause problems.
What does this mean for how the conversations in politics and policies around refugees needs to change? It needs to start with everyone from politicians to everyday citizens understanding that refugees are unique from all other people trying to enter our country and must be treated differently. Politicians must work to put in support structures that are able to give the extra assistance that refugees will need. Every one of us as U.S. citizens must lobby our politicians to make sure they are giving refugees the adequate support that they need, and we must all learn how we can help the refugees that are around us through this trauma that they have experienced. Visit refugee.org or a local refugee support organization to learn how you can get involved.