Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Refugee Students

Apr 3, 2014

Refugees face many challenges after resettling in a new country and it can be especially hard for children. On Saturday at Luce Hall Auditorium, Yale School of Medicine and Yale's MacMillan Center are hosting a conference for educators to learn about ways to help refugee students adjust.

One of the conference organizers is Dr. Ani Annamalai with Yale School of Medicine. She also is the director of Yale Refugee Clinic, which serves up to 500 refugees a year. She said refugee students face many challenges like learning a new language and culture.

There's also the stress of helping their parents assimilate. "This sometimes causes actual diagnosable mental health conditions," Annamalai said, "which actually may not reach the level of post traumatic stress disorder or major depressive disorder. But they may still have behavioral problems in school; [they] may socially isolate. Or they may pick up habits like drug abuse."

The conference is an extension of a brief workshop last year for teachers, organized by the educational outreach unit of Yale's Macmillan Center, also this year's conference sponsor. Dr Annamalai said it was clear the educators wanted to hear much more about reaching this student population.

On Saturday, attendees will hear from national refugee experts about common health problems among young refugees and programs that have been proven to help them. "One is a family strengthening program," Annamalai said. "We're focusing on changes within the family, [and] addressing acculturation gaps between children and families."