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Abstract José Renkens, Els Rommes, Maria van den Muijsenbergh (2022)

This study set out to answer the question ‘Which kinds of agency do refugees perform when dealing with mental health problems of themselves and their children?’. Aiming to gain more insight in why it seems harder for refugee parents and minors than for the native population to talk to health professionals about their mental health and wellbeing, we combined two theoretical notions of agency to investigate a broad spectrum of informants’ behaviour. We conducted 25 interviews with 30 refugees from 8 countries (Syria, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Eritrea, Turkish Kurdistan, Vietnam), whose Dutch residence permit varied from 26 years to less than one year. Data were analysed through open and axial coding, followed by pattern analyses. Although sometimes refugees seek (mental) healthcare, at other times they show agency by doing ‘nothing’ or by deliberately using distracting activities to deal with severe stress. Making use of resources available to them, oftentimes refugees show agency in ways that are less visible to healthcare professionals, by surviving, showing resilience, and suffering. In these cases, we think healthcare for refugees should intervene in a non-medical way, e.g., by supporting them to obtain resources that help refugees to (re)gain agency.

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