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Nursing professor Donelle Barnes wants
to change how some immigrants settle in America.
By Rick Waters '95
danger in a war-torn homeland, losing loved ones along the way, arriving
in a strange country and learning to live there without understanding
the native language.
Some of the
nearly 75,000 refugees who arrive in the United States each year face
those challenges, and whether they are escaping religious or political
persecution or war, the enormous stress does not end when they settle
in America. While free of the horrors of home, they still confront life
changes at all angles -- housing, employment, family relationships, even
process produces an anxiety that researchers call acculturative stress.
Severe cases can lead to clinical depression, which is statistically high
among refugees. In fact, refugees have been found to experience five to
eight times more emotional distress than the host population.
news is that social support can buffer this anxiety and, among refugees,
decrease depression and improve mental health. However, scholars believe
assistance programs have not focused on community-level support and have
failed to provide consistent practical and informational resources. Why?
Because there's not much anecdotal or statistical data. No one really
knows what kind of support works best for refugees.
professor Donelle Barnes, right, wants to change that. Just before Christmas,
she received a $137,000 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research
to collect anecdotal data on community-level support, which she can use
to develop a tool to measure and improve support methods.
For the study,
Barnes, who joined the Harris School of Nursing faculty in 2002, is focusing
on Cuban refugees. She speaks Spanish and spent eight years in Ecuador
as a hospital nurse and community development director.
is going to hone in on their social environment," she says. "I'll look
at what type of support they might get from other Cuban refugees, what
support they're getting from other groups that speak Spanish, such as
Mexican-Americans, and from others, mostly Anglos, who don't speak Spanish."
that refugees get different kinds of support from each group.
a fellow Cuban probably can offer more emotional support than others.
'I know what you're feeling. I'm going through it too.' But a fellow Cuban
is probably not the best person to help show them how a bank works in
this country or how to open a checking account."
In the first
year of the three-year grant, Barnes will interview 30 to 50 adult Cuban
refugees -- men and women of various ages. She expects to find older refugees
having more difficulty with resettlement than younger ones. She also believes
that depression is more common among women, "which is not surprising because
that trend is consistent with American women."
A more stressful
past will likely result in more difficulties in America, Barnes believes.
"A Bosnian refugee who is highly traumatized from war might have post-traumatic
stress disorder, and that will make it all the more difficult to learn
new things versus a Cuban who was dissatisfied with his government and
got on a boat and left," she says. "Both have stress, but each has different
kinds and amounts. Cubans may be a little less stressed."
major hypothesis is that stressful situations seem to fuel negative mental
health in the form of anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic
stress disorder, all of which lessen quality of life and result in more
health problems in general.
is that if we can assist these refugees, decrease their stress and increase
their coping skills, they can experience fewer health problems and adjust
better to living here," she says.
In the second
year of the study, Barnes will take the interviews and create a questionnaire
that will examine issues such as language learning, job attainment and
helpfulness of resettlement agencies.
In the third
year, she will test the questionnaire among a larger group of refugees,
collecting even more data and creating a workable tool to measure social
support among refugees.
that will be useful in my next grant -- intervention. I want to know how
I can build better social support in the refugee resettlement process,
so that they have fewer negative health outcomes and better quality of
Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.