Researchers discover promising way to combat PTSD in refugees
University of Texas at Arlington researchers have documented success in reducing the risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, in female refugees from war-torn countries.
Regina Aguirre and Diane Mitschke, assistant professors in UT Arlington’s School of Social Work, have been conducting research in conjunction with the refugee resettlement program of Catholic Charities Fort Worth.
“We set out to see if some women could be helped, and we discovered there might be a fundamental problem with the way we handle refugees in this country,” Aguirre said. “We observed a method of giving refugees the ability to help themselves, and improve their mental health in the process.”
Researchers began with 47 female refugees from Bhutan, a small country on China’s southern border, who each had exhibited PTSD. Many of the women came from refugee camps in Burma and Thailand, where they had sought safety to escape their own tumultuous country.
The women were divided into a control group and two intervention groups. The control group received no assistance, while refugees in one intervention group received 12 weeks of financial literacy classes.
Refugees in the other intervention group received 12 weeks of financial literacy classes and participated in knitting scarves as part-time contract employees of Catholic Charities’ WORN Project. WORN is a socially conscious business started by Catholic Charities in 2011 to help refugees generate income.
Within three months, all members of the two intervention groups showed significant improvement, and no longer met the criteria for PTSD in standardized evaluations. The conditions in members of the control group worsened.
Mitschke said the startling results raise a moral issue. “Are we really making their lives any better by just relocating them?” she said. “Our research indicates programs like WORN can help transform lives.”
The 17 women who were empowered by knitting scarves for income experienced surprising success, as sales nearly tripled original projections, the researchers found.
“WORN has opened some doors and opened some eyes about what these refugees have to offer,” Mitschke said.
Both intervention groups started with significant anxiety and depression, but researchers found scores were significantly reduced through both types of intervention.
Typically, newcomers are provided with three to six months of assistance, which may include financial help and other services. However, following this initial period of resettlement, resources for refugees are limited. UT Arlington’s research may have found a way to fill this gap.
The WORN program is one of nine projects under way at UT Arlington in the Innovative Community-Academic Partnership Program. The program is supported by a generous commitment from the Amon G. Carter Foundation. iCAP links academic research with community partners who meet the needs of people on a daily basis.
Others iCAP programs include Youth Offender Diversion Alternative, or YODA, an effort designed to prevent family violence, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, or ASIST, which evaluates the impact of suicides in the military.
The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of nearly 33,500 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.
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