Study: East Africa is a region of tremendous political and social upheaval. Refugees
from this region have resettled in many countries, including the United States.
Despite recognition of the enormous mental health needs in East African
refugees, there is little literature formally assessing the degree of trauma
exposure or the types of coping strategies employed by this group. This lack of
knowledge may be partially attributable to the lack of culturally valid
assessment tools. The purpose of this pilot-study is to identify traumatic life
events in Eritrean refugees and explore what adaptations of existing measures
are necessary to identify coping strategies employed by this population.
interviews were conducted with 10 Eritrean refugees and asylees between the
ages of 23 and 47 who migrated to the United States after 1998 (7 Males and 3
females). The Horn of Africa Needs Assessment was used by integrating questions
from the Ways of Coping Checklist (WCC), Coping Orientation to Problems
Experienced (COPE) and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale(CDRS). Additional
questions included in the interview reflected domains pertinent to the Eritrean
history and traditions projected to give insights on culturally relevant coping
strategies. Resulting transcription of the interviews were analyzed and types
of trauma and coping strategies categorized.
of Results: Types
of traumatic stressors identified included combat-related trauma, physical
torture, detention, sexual harassment, natural disasters and culture shock.
Identified coping strategies included faith and religion, family and community
support, positive reinterpretation, use of herbs and alcohol as well as various
spiritual practices deeply rooted in the Eritrean culture.
was common and severe in this population. General categories of coping
mechanisms identified in Eritrean refugees were similar to coping strategies
recognized in other regions of the world. The use of specific herbs,
traditional ceremonies and certain spiritual rituals were unique to this
population. Future studies or clinical work with this or similar populations
may benefit by integration of these newly identified strategies.
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