Researchers find older refugees more likely to exhibit depressive traits long after resettlement

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With the majority of past research studies on refugees focusing on the initial health effects of immigration resettlement, a recent study, appearing in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, investigated its long-term outcome.

In the new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, older refugees, between 45 to 85 years of age, as part of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, were examined for any prevalence of depressive symptoms.

Factors possibly influencing severity of depression among refugees, such as age, gender, marital status, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, physical and behavioral health, were taken into account during the study.

Based on the findings, the refugees were profoundly more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms decades after settlement compared to Canadian-born individuals. The radically high risk amount, estimated at 70%, was evident even when factors like age, gender and marital status, were taken into consideration.

“The prevalence of depression was higher in a sample of 272 refugees (22.1%) and 5,059 non-refugee immigrants (16.6%), compared to 24,339 native-born Canadians (15.2%),” the study reads.

“Our results suggest that post-migration challenges are less important than pre-migration traumas when it comes to depression,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, co-author of the study.

“Our findings indicate that the refugee experience casts a long shadow across an individual’s lifespan,” Shen Lin, another co-author, explained. “While our data did not capture reasons for the high levels of depression among refugees, we believe it may be influenced by exposure to pre-migration traumas such as genocide, forced displacement, human trafficking, sexual assault, famine, and separation from family.”

Researchers concluded that social support was vital in determining impact of depression, in which a lack of social support was correlated with increased depression among refugees.

“Our study indicates that the quality of relationships, rather than the quantity of social connections, matters most for refugees’ mental health,” said Karen Kobayashi, another co-author. “This highlights the importance of investigating ways to promote powerful positive social relations among refugees and asylum seekers in their families, neighbourhoods, and communities.”