The first step in working with refugees in the context of mental health is to understand the trauma response process. The trauma response is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. These feelings persist even after the traumatic event has ended, which is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
UNDERSTANDING THE REACTION
When you move to a new country, everything is suddenly turned on its head. It’s a huge transition and, no matter how prepared you may think you are, it’s an overwhelming shock. And it’s not the end of the journey.
Once refugees arrive in America, their struggles aren’t over. They encounter strange new customs and culture norms. There’s a language barrier. They may have difficulty getting to grocery stores or understanding how a checking account works. And past trauma may be triggered by experiences they encounter in their new day-to-day lives.
When presented with any situation that makes us uncomfortable or afraid, the flight or fight response kicks in. People may feel angry and ready to lash out, or they may become reclusive and avoid leaving their homes and neighborhoods. Despite it all, refugees want to find a better life here. They have hopes and dreams for their future in the U.S. So, refugees experience an entire gamut of emotions as they adjust to life in a new country.
While the stages of grief aren’t experienced in the same order by everyone, grieving is an important part of healing. Those who have experienced trauma should allow themselves to grieve. Understanding the stages can help normalize and understand feelings that result from traumatic events.