Mental Health

According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Iraqi refugees arrive in the United States with more emotional and mental health issues than many other refugee groups, and the IRC has documented a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among recently arrived Iraqis 30. In a 2012  CDC survey of Iraqi refugees who had lived in the United States 8-36 months, 50% of participants reported anxiety, 49% depression, and 31% a need for further assessment for PTSD 8. This finding is consistent with data collected on Iraqis in their host countries. In Syria, 89.5% of interviewed Iraqi refugees reported depression, 81.6% anxiety, and 67.6% PTSD 6. Reasons reported for mental health issues among Iraqis in Syria included air bombardments, shelling, or rocket attacks (77%); witnessing a shooting (80%); interrogation or harassment by militias (68%); and knowing someone close to them who had been killed (75%) 6.

A 2009 study estimated the lifetime prevalence of any mental disorder at 18.8% for Iraqi adults 34. Anxiety disorders were the most common (13.8%) class of disorders in the cohort studied, and major depressive disorder (MDD) was the most common (7.2%) single disorder 34. Iraqi refugees are aware of their psychological disturbances and describe their feelings of anxiety and depression in terms such as “Dayij” (uncomfortable), “Ka’aba” (melancholia), “al Zillah” (humiliation), “Kalak” (anxiety), “Inziaaj” (uneasiness), “Ihbat” (frustration), “Khawf” (fears), “Daghet” (pressure), “Ta’ab” (tiredness), “Sadma” (shocked), “Insilakh” (uprooting), and “Hasbiya Allah wa ni’ma l wakil” and “Allah y’in”, which both refer to the hope in God’s assistance to face trouble and injustice 17. Iraqi refugees may not seek mental health care due to cultural stigmatization of mental health patients; lack of access to mental health services in countries of asylum (especially Jordan); and lack of outreach and education about mental health issues 17. Iraqi refugees may manifest mental health problems as physical symptoms, such as headaches, backaches, body aches, or gastrointestinal problems with no physical underlying reasons.

Summary

Iraqi refugees have been coming to the United States for a short time compared with some other refugee groups. Iraqi refugees have a high burden of non-communicable disease such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and malnutrition. The information provided above is intended to help resettlement agencies, clinicians, and health care providers understand the cultural background and health issues of greatest concern pertaining to resettling Iraqi refugee populations.

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