Mental health of newly arrived Burmese refugees in Australia : contributions of pre-migration and post-migration experience

Schweitzer, Robert D., Brough, Mark, Vromans, Lyn, & Asic-Kobe, Mary (2011) Mental health of newly arrived Burmese refugees in Australia : contributions of pre-migration and post-migration experience. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45(4), pp. 209-307.

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Objective: This study documents the mental health status of people from Burmese refugee backgrounds, recently arrived in Australia; then examines the contributions of gender, premigration and postmigration factors in predicting mental health.

Method: Structured interviews, including a demographic questionnaire, the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, Postmigration Living Difficulties Checklist and Hopkins Symptom Checklist assessed premigration trauma, postmigration living difficulties, depression, anxiety, somatisation and traumatisation symptoms in a sample of 70 adults across five Burmese ethnic groups.

Results: Substantial proportions of participants reported psychological distress in symptomatic ranges including: posttraumatic stress disorder (9%); anxiety (20%), and; depression (36%), as well as significant symptoms of somatisation (37%). Participants reported multiple and severe premigration traumas. Postmigration living difficulties of greatest concern included communication problems and worry about family not in Australia. Gender did not predict mental health. Level of exposure to traumatic events and postmigration living difficulties each made unique and relatively equal contributions to traumatisation symptoms. Postmigration living difficulties made unique contributions to depression, anxiety and somatisation symptoms.

Conclusions: While exposure to traumatic events impacted on participants’ mental wellbeing, postmigration living difficulties had greater salience in predicting mental health outcomes of people from Burmese refugee backgrounds. Reported rates of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms were consistent with a large review of adults across seven western countries. High levels of somatisation pointed to a nuanced expression of distress. Findings have implications for service provision in terms of implementing appropriate interventions to effectively meet the needs of this newly arrived group in Australia.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 40622
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Burmese, refugee, trauma, mental health, postmigration living difficulties
DOI: 10.3109/00048674.2010.543412
ISSN: 0004-8674
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES (170000) > PSYCHOLOGY (170100)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Past > Schools > Social Work & Human Services
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Taylor & Francis.
Copyright Statement: This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry © 2011 [copyright Taylor & Francis]; Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry is available online at:
Deposited On: 10 Mar 2011 01:09
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2015 04:38

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