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Religion, culture and mental health in Somali refugees in Christchurch, New Zealand

Arif Mohamed, MPH 2012

Abstract

There is existing international literature which shows a general trend of higher rates of mental health problems in refugees. However, there is significant inconsistency in these findings which is related to multiple methodological problems. This includes significant differences in cultural perspectives of mental health in refugee populations compared to predominant Western perspectives. The Somali refugee population has increased steadily in New Zealand over the last two decades. However, there is a significant lack of research about the mental health of Somali refugees in New Zealand, particularly in Christchurch. This qualitative study aims to explore perspectives of mental health in Somali refugees in Christchurch using a community based participatory approach as the guiding methodology. The specific research objectives include explorations of descriptions of mental health problems, experiences of mental health problems and health services and recommendations of community members regarding health services and the mental health of the community. This information was gathered through in-depth interviews with the use of purposive sampling. An inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse the transcriptions of the interviews. The results revealed an overarching theme of the central role of religion and culture in shaping perspectives of mental health problems in the Somali refugee community in Christchurch. The results also showed that pluralistic explanations for mental health problems were prominent, resulting in individuals seeking multiple approaches to dealing with these problems. Spiritual and religious explanations and approaches to treatment such as spirit possession and prayers with Quranic readings were common. Biomedical explanations and mainstream treatment approaches appeared to be less accepted, but more prevalent in younger populations. Stigma related to mental health problems was identified as a significant barrier to dealing with mental health problems. This appears to be related to a categorical view of mental health problems with stereotypes of unpredictability, dangerousness and incurability. Other identified barriers included lack of awareness about mental health problems, lack of trust in health professionals and language difficulties. More importantly, the participants identified religion and spirituality as well as family and community supports as factors contributing to resilience.

Supervisor: Lee Thompson