Trauma and coping in Somali and Oromo refugee youth

Linda L. Halcón, Cheryl L. Robertson, Kay Savik, David R. Johnson, Marline A. Spring, James N. Butcher, Joseph J. Westermeyer, James M. Jaranson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Purpose To describe war-related trauma history, immigration factors, problems, and coping of Somali and Oromo refugee youth. Methods Analysis of a subset of participants (N = 338) aged 18-25 years from a population-based survey of Somali and Oromo refugees conducted in 2000-2002. Data included trauma history, life situation, and scales for physical (Cronbach α = .69), psychological (α = .56), and social problems (α = .69). Data were analyzed using Chi-square and Mann-Whitney U tests. Results Average emigration age was 14.8 years, with 4.2 years in transit and 2.0 years in the United States; 60% reported plans to return home to live. Two-thirds (66%) had less than a high school education, 49% had English language problems, 49% were employed (38% female vs. 57% male); 70% were single, with Somali females more likely than Oromo to be partnered and mothers (39% vs. 19%). There were significant ethnicity/gender differences for all problem scales. More females reported feeling alone (24% vs. 61%, p < .001). Youth with symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome reported more traumatic events (mean number of events: 28 vs.16). Trauma history was strongly associated with physical, psychological, and social problems. Most frequent strategies to combat sadness were praying (55.3%), sleeping (39.9%), reading (32.3%), and talking to friends (27.8%). Conclusions Many young Somali and Oromo immigrants to the United States experience life problems associated with war trauma and torture, but many others are coping well. The findings suggest a need to develop age-appropriate strategies to promote the health of refugee youth to facilitate their successful adaptation to adult life in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (5RO1-MH59579 and 1RO1-MH59570). This analysis was supported in part by the Maternal Child Health Bureau Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (MCJ 279185).

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Adolescents
  • Gender differences
  • Immigrants
  • Mental health
  • Refugees
  • Youth


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