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Ethnographic Study Preventive Mental Health for Adolescent Refugees

Studies of refugee adolescents have demonstrated elevated rates of mental illness and other negative behavioral outcomes. Less often considered is that the circumstances of resettlement may be well suited for mental disorder prevention services amongst adolescents given the protective resources that lie in their family and social environments. This five-year study of at-risk refugee adolescents uses ethnography to develop contextual knowledge on family and ecological resources that protect against mental health problems, and uses that knowledge to develop a prevention intervention which is adaptable for different cultures and different service settings. It is guided by family-ecodevelopmental theory, theories of resilience, trauma, and migration, and a services approach. The specific aims of this study are: 1) To examine over time the experiences of at-risk refugee adolescents from two cultural groups, so as to characterize the family and ecological protective resources that may be enhanced by preventive services; 2) To use the contextual knowledge of family and ecological protective resources to develop a preventive intervention for at-risk refugee adolescents that is tailored to fit different cultural contexts and service settings. The first aim of this research is addressed through a multi-site, cross-cultural, prospective ethnographic study. The sample is 80 at-risk refugee adolescents (ages 12 to 17), their families, and service providers from two distinct refugee populations that arrived within the past two years. The investigators will conduct follow-along interviews and shadowing field observations with: 1) 40 Liberians; 2) 40 Somali Bantus. The second specific aim of the study is addressed through: 1) Designing a potentially effective and generalizable prevention intervention; 2) Examining through focus groups the acceptability and feasibility of the preventive intervention; 3) Pilot testing the acceptability and feasibility of the preventive intervention.


Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.



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    Neuropsychiatric Insitute
    912 S. Wood Steet, Chicago, IL 60612
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