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Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Refugees

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Refugees

Over the years, war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide around the world have resulted in attacks on and widespread torture of civilians. Mental health professionals serving the needs of refugees in the US can better treat psychiatric disorders resulting from trauma (eg, depression, PTSD) if they have an understanding of cross-cultural needs of the patient.


Keep in mind that violence has severe and pernicious effects, with symptoms that may remit but can easily be reactivated

Be culturally sensitive and aware of the effects of massive trauma

Have an empathetic interpreter who can accurately translate verbal and nonverbal communication and who is emotionally in tune with patients

Do not hurry the patient; take the time to learn the full scope of the patient's life experiences

Take a trauma history, noting its effects on the patient—psychological, medical, and social

Actively treat depression, sleep disorders, and nightmares with appropriate medications

Inquire about aggressive behavior or intolerance, which can cause family and social problems

Be prepared for a chronic course of mental disability, with remissions and exacerbations

Provide a safe, confidential, trusting relationship with an American professional—the most helpful aspect of the therapeutic encounter


For more information on clinical symptoms displayed by victim refugees and treatment options, please see “A Model for Treating Refugees Traumatized by Violence," by J. David Kinzie, MD, from which this Tipsheet was adapted.

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