According to statistics from the United Nations (UN), nearly half of all refugees are minors. Youth refugees are at a particularly high risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as they often escape countries with severe ongoing conflicts. The grueling journey of leaving one’s home for an unknown destination contributes to the chances of developing a range of pre-existing mental health issues, including psychiatric disorders. However, refugees are expected to begin the long and complex process of acculturation as soon as they arrive in a new country. Refugee youth require mental health supports and interventions to successfully integrate into a new culture and society. The risk of marginalization is disproportionately high for refugee youth, thereby increasing the need for services that teach emotional skills that can support long-term mental health and recovery from trauma.
|Youth refugees are at high risk for PTSD upon arrival in Canada, so it is critical to immediately provide them with the appropriate mental health supports to increase their chances of successful integration and positive acculturation into a new society.|
Positive mental health includes a sense of well-being that facilitates a young person’s ability to realize their potential and to feel connected to their community. Educators increasingly recognize the connection between positive mental health and academic achievement. Therefore, there is a greater focus on helping newcomers develop the emotional tools that support their mental well-being as they enter the school system, especially given the unique nature of their stress due to potentially traumatic past experiences.
As such, it is vital to develop a toolkit that provides a holistic approach to supporting the mental health of refugee youth. A toolkit for educators that includes a focus on intrinsic motivation, enhancing critical thinking skills, developing relationship-building skills, enhancing emotional regulation skills, and nurturing a positive self-concept can contribute to improved mental health among refugee youth. These are life-long skills that can aid refugee youth in developing resilience while acclimatizing to their new surroundings. In addition, a key focus is creating a sense of belonging. If this sense of belonging is absent in the schooling experience, then refugee youth may succumb to negative social influences in an effort to find that sense of belonging.
|Toolkits for educators that support emotional well-being among refugee youth need to include the following components: developing intrinsic motivation, enhancing critical thinking skills, encouraging relationship-building skills, improving emotional regulation skills, forming a positive self-concept, and creating a sense of belonging.|
Further, school-based health programs play a significant role in supporting recovery from traumatic experiences and emotional skills development among refuge youth. These programs need to include a variety of key supports based on the gravity of need, including multi-tier and multimodal interventions based on the severity of the youths’ conditions. In some cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be helpful in dealing with anxiety-related disorders that are common among youth who have experienced hardships. CBT can include increased exposure to materials that induce anxiety to promote cognitive restructuring. This type of intervention can help refugee youth in dealing with emotions that arise from complex issues while providing the skills to prevent relapses into an anxious state of mind. Refugee youth can develop the emotional intelligence required to deal with difficult experiences as long as they receive the necessary supports from compassionate adults both inside and outside the schooling system.
|School-based and community health programs that incorporate CBT from compassionate and supportive adults can help youth refugees develop emotional intelligence.|