Psychological Distress in Afghan Refugees: A Mixed-Method Systematic Review

Mental health problems disproportionately affect Afghan refugees and asylum seekers who continue to seek international protection with prolonged exposure to war. We performed a systematic review aimed at synthesizing peer- reviewed literature pertaining to mental health problems among Afghans resettled in industrialized nations. We used five databases to identify studies published between 1979 and 2013 that provided data on distress levels, and subjective experiences with distress. Seventeen studies met our inclusion criteria consisting of 1 mixed-method, 7 qualitative, and 9 quantitative studies. Themes from our qualitative synthesis described antecedents for distress being rooted in cultural conflicts and loss, and also described unique coping mechanisms. Quantitative findings indicated moderate to high prevalence of depressive and posttraumatic symptomatology. These findings support the need for continued mental health research with Afghans that accounts for: distress among newly resettled groups, professional help-seeking utilization patterns, and also culturally relevant strategies for mitigating distress and engaging Afghans in research.

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