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Rohingya's mental health

Stateless refugees such as the Rohingyas flee from persecution, war, genocide, the trauma of living through those memories, and, indeed, the everyday struggle of living in an overcrowded camp. The experience of trauma is inevitable in such conditions.

Researchers from UNHCR and from the University of Denver and Colorado took a closer look at the mental health of 148 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh.

They found that the refugees have been showing signs of posttraumatic stress disorder and had suffered from depression and somatic disorders. Somatic disorder involves a person having a significant focus on physical symptoms, such as pain, weakness, or shortness of breath, which results in distress and other problems. The individual has excessive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the physical symptoms. Panic attacks could also be seen as a somatic problem, with chest pain, heaviness, and breathing difficulty.

Moreover, living in the camps was also associated with a lack of food, a physical threat, not having enough freedom, an existential threat, constant danger, and a psychological threat. Living in such threatening conditions can only worsen the already existing symptoms from war and persecution memories. Just imagine how things would be right now? During the COVID pandemic, when we all indeed share a common fate of the COVID threat, the threat would only be exasperated amongst Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh camps.

An important take-home message is that the depression symptoms were more connected with the stress of living in camps rather than with war. This finding is similar to another research finding we shared with refugees living in Germany; mental health becomes WORSE in camps, and illnesses develop due to the living conditions mainly.

So how can we help? Rohingya refugees need better living conditions. We could pressurise governments and other political bodies; we can help NGOs set up better facilities. We can join in collective action to raise awareness for other countries to accept Rohingya refugees, so the burden is eased on Bangladesh. Let's learn more, think more, and do more.

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