Study examines forced migrants response to adversity

Published: 4 March 2015 at 12:13

Lack of social support has huge effect on resilience of Muslims displaced by war.

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A new report in the BMJ Open journal shows the devastating effect a lack of social support can have on the resilience of people displaced by war.

Research led by Dr Chesmal Siriwardhana of Anglia Ruskin University explored what factors affected the resilience of a Muslim population returning to their roots after a long-term civil war in Sri Lanka. Resilience is defined as an ability to overcome adversity.

A total of 338 members of an ethnic Muslim population internally displaced from northern Sri Lanka in 1990 and who are in the process of returning were interviewed twice, one year apart. Their level of resilience was measured using the 14-item Resilience Scale (RS-14). The study is thought to be the first to measure resilience longitudinally among people driven to another part of their homeland by conflict using this method.

According to the findings, people who felt they had no social support network – from family to government services - to turn to in tough times had a score 23.31 points lower than those who had access to high levels of such support (67.86 to 91.17). Those who lacked sufficient food saw their resilience fall by 17 points compared to those who had enough. Those who experienced social isolation had a resilience score 6 points lower than subjects with plenty of people around them.

While many interviewees were suffering from common mental disorders, these were not as influential in the lowering of resilience. People classified as suffering from any common mental disorder scored 6.19 points lower on the resilience scale than those who were not.

Dr Siriwardhana, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“The support people perceive they have, or the amount that is actually available through family, friends, workplace or the government has a huge impact on their ability to bounce back from tough times. This obviously varies in contexts/cultures and has a very strong link to people's mental health."

“These findings show that people affected by conflict require stronger social support, and long-term struggles with daily stressors like a lack of food can affect their recovery."

“This is a resource-poor area which is still recovering from a devastating conflict – many of its population still bear the scars of being forced from their homes for long periods and many people need specialist help which is hard to come by.”

The paper was published by BMJ Open. To read or download the full paper, click here.