Refugees' advice to physicians: How to ask about mental health

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38 Scopus citations


Background. About 45.2 million people were displaced from their homes in 2012 due to persecution, political conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations. Refugees who endure violence are at increased risk of developing chronic psychiatric disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and major depression. The primary care visit may be the first opportunity to detect the devastating psychological effects of trauma. Physicians and refugees have identified communication barriers that inhibit discussions about mental health. Objectives. In this study, refugees offer advice to physicians about how to assess the mental health effects of trauma. Methods. Ethnocultural methodology informed 13 focus groups with 111 refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Somali and Ethiopia. Refugees responded to questions concerning how physicians should ask about mental health in acceptable ways. Focus groups were recorded, transcribed and analyzed using thematic categorization informed by Spradley's Developmental Research Sequence. Results. Refugees recommended that physicians should take the time to make refugees comfortable, initiate direct conversations about mental health, inquire about the historical context of symptoms and provide psychoeducation about mental health and healing. Conclusions. Physicians may require specialized training to learn how to initiate conversations about mental health and provide direct education and appropriate mental health referrals in a brief medical appointment. To assist with making appropriate referrals, physicians may also benefit from education about evidence-based practices for treating symptoms of refugee trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalFamily Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Culture and disease/cross-cultural health issues
  • Doctor-patient relationship
  • Immigrant health
  • Mental health
  • Primary care
  • Trauma


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