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Attempts to “forget”: unaccompanied refugee adolescents’ everyday experiences of psychosocial challenges and coping upon settlement

Frederikke Jarlby (Department of Public Health, Danish Research Centre for Migration, Ethnicity and Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Ilse Derluyn (Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Kathrine Vitus (Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Signe Smith Jervelund (Department of Public Health, Danish Research Centre for Migration, Ethnicity and Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 8 April 2021

Issue publication date: 1 June 2021

148

Abstract

Purpose

Poor mental health is common amongst unaccompanied refugee adolescents and may have serious negative consequences for their successful settlement. This study aims to elucidate unaccompanied adolescents’ experiences of psychosocial challenges and what they need to cope with this during their course of settlement in Denmark, particularly focussing on social support.

Design/methodology/approach

The study sample included six male unaccompanied refugee adolescents aged 17–18, living in two residential care facilities. Based on a triangulation of methods (i.e. participant observation, individual interviews and a focus group interview using photo-elicitation), a thematic analysis was conducted within the conceptual framework of stigma and a need for relatedness.

Findings

Several interwoven and on-going psychosocial challenges, including perceived stigma and loneliness combined with past traumatic experiences and uncertainties about the future, were experienced by the adolescents in this study. As opposed to experiencing emotional distress, stigma and loneliness, various activities of “forgetting”, which involved a sense of momentary relief or bliss, a sense of “normalcy” and acceptance and/or a sense of relatedness, helped them to cope.

Practical implications

For psychosocial care services to respond to adolescents’ mental health needs in an optimal way, the results suggest that activities and social support that are sufficiently adapted to individual needs should be the focal point in their daily lives.

Originality/value

The study offers insights into the needs of unaccompanied refugee adolescents in coping with the psychosocial challenges experienced in their daily lives.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Funding: This study was funded by NordForsk (grant number: 74645).Disclosure statement: The authors report no conflict of interest.

Citation

Jarlby, F., Derluyn, I., Vitus, K. and Jervelund, S.S. (2021), "Attempts to “forget”: unaccompanied refugee adolescents’ everyday experiences of psychosocial challenges and coping upon settlement", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 181-195. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMHSC-04-2020-0030

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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