Exploration of Psychological Well-Being with Young Somali Refugee and Asylum-Seeker Women


Whittaker, Sara, Gillian Hardy, Kathryn Lewis, Linda Buchan. 2005. "An Exploration of Psychological Well-Being with Young Somali Refugee and Asylum-Seeker Women." Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry 10 (2): 177-196.

Authors: Sara Whittaker, Gillian Hardy, Kathryn Lewis, Linda Buchan


The aims of this study were to explore individual and collective understandings of psychological well-being among young Somali (black African Muslim) asylum-seeker or refugee women. Three groups and five individual semi-structured interviews were undertaken and themes were identified using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Themes included resilience and protection; identity and beliefs; and concealment, distancing and secrets; which reflected acculturation, Islamic and Somali cultures. Spirit possession was explored in relation to culture and religion, mental health, protection and treatment. The women ‘get on’, cope with life, and value support from family, services and religion. However, the pressures to navigate conflicting and changing cultural and religious positions, and to conceal distress, frustrate accessing support. The young Somali refugees’ understandings of mental health and psychological well-being provide an insight for clinicians into the complexities of approaching services for help, and developing shared understandings transculturally. Clinically, the findings raise the paradox of how Somali women value support, yet also value concealment and fear disclosures. The variation and tensions reflected in the data from a small number of women highlight the importance of not stereotyping refugees, but exploring their individual beliefs and providing a range of service options.

Keywords: female refugees, mental health, counseling

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Humanitarian Assistance, Context-Appropriate Response to Trauma, Religion Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Somalia

Year: 2005

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