The United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR has warned that up to 500,000 Afghans could try to flee Afghanistan over the coming months (Hancock, 2021).
So far, Britain has evacuated 13,700 British nationals and Afghans and America has evacuated around 105,000 people. So it is now an appropriate time to discuss the mental health of refugees.
The rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is the reason why people are desperately attempting to leave the war-torn nation.
The Afghan people remember the regime of the Taliban from when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996–2001. They are fearful of the return to Taliban rule.
In their first press conference after taking power, Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesperson of the Taliban said that women will enjoy rights according to Islamic law and that there would be an amnesty for all who have worked for foreign powers. They also urged women to join their government who will now be allowed to study to university level (Yohanna, 2021).
Most of the people who will become asylum seekers in the UK will have lived through dreadful experiences and faced devastating losses. All have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their communities and been separated from their loved ones and made perilous journeys before they will finally arrive in the UK (Refugeecouncil, 2021). Refugees are people who flee their home to a different country to escape conflict. The term refugee includes asylum-seekers who are individuals who are forced to leave their country often due to political or religious beliefs.
“The most common mental health diagnoses in refugee populations are post-traumatic health disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety, panic disorders, and adjustment disorders. Symptoms of PTSD can include disturbing thoughts and feelings that interfere with daily life up to years after the traumatic event occurred, and symptoms of major depressive disorder include persistent sadness, hopelessness, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, and thoughts of death or suicide” (Reinisch, 2020).
Once they arrive in the UK, many will suffer with anxiety about the complex asylum process. They will worry about accommodation, money and education. And they will also worry about family who have been left behind.
According to (Mentalhealth, 2021) asylum seekers and refugees are more likely to experience poorer mental health than the local population, including higher rates of depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other anxiety disorders.
The increased risk of mental health problems that refugees and asylum seekers face is linked to traumatic experiences such as war trauma and post-migration conditions such as separation from family, difficulties with asylum procedures and poor housing.
Research suggests that asylum seekers are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population and more than 61% will experience serious mental distress. However, data shows that they are less likely to receive support than the general population.
So next time you see or meet a refugee try to empathise with their desperate situation, one day it could happen to you.
Hancock, S (2021, August 27) Afghanistan news – live: Two UK nationals and child of British citizen among 100 dead in Kabul terror attack. The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/south-asia/afghanistan-news-live-kabul-taliban-us-b1909650.html?page=108
Mentalhealth (2021, August 27) Mental health statistics: refugees and asylum seekers. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-refugees-and-asylum-seekers
Refugee council (2021, August 27) Mental health support for refugees and asylum seekers. Retrieved from https://refugeecouncil.org.uk/our-work/mental-health-support-for-refugees-and-asylum-seekers/
Reinisch, E (2020, December 14). Mental health issues affecting refugees. Gators for Refugee Medical Relief, https://www.grmruf.org/blog/2020/12/14/refugees-and-mental-health
Yohanna, I (2021, August 17) Breaking: Taliban Releases First Statement After Seizing Afghanistan. Drumbeatnews https://drumbeatnews.co.uk/breaking-taliban-releases-first-statement-after-seizing-afghanistan/