• Paula Campos

The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of people from refugee backgrounds


The impacts of a global pandemic like COVID-19 are manifold and far-reaching. As a recent article by Rees and Fisher revealed, the mental and emotional health of people with a refugee background is particularly threatened by COVID-19. After conducting a study of women from conflict zones, Rees and Fisher deduced that the global pandemic could be worsening mental illnesses like PTSD and decreasing productivity. The following information details the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of such vulnerable people. People of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds are likely to have suffered from severe anxiety regarding family members living in conflict areas. Currently, the virus is spreading at a fast rate and health care is inadequate in many conflict areas. Many of these people of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds are unable to return to their family members and protect them, a factor causing their past anxiety to be triggered and resurface. Another aspect of COVID-19 that may negatively impact refugees/asylum seekers is the increase in state regulations and overall control. Many people of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds have experienced the brunt of severe government regulations. Hence, those of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds may come to associate the increase in police and military presence and the state enforcement of lockdowns, detainment and social distancing with negative past experiences of authority. The COVIDSafe App which tracks individuals and those they personally interact with is another cause for worry and uncertainty among such groups. This is because recent migrants may view the app as inhibiting their newly established freedom and security.


"...those of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds may come to associate the increase in police and military presence ... with negative past experiences of authority."


Furthermore, social isolation in order to prevent the spread of the virus is another factor which may worsen mental health conditions of people from a refugee background. As new settlers who may be attempting to heal from trauma, it is highly vital for those with a refugee/asylum seeking background to maintain social interaction and connectedness. However, because of poor English proficiency and economic disadvantage, such vulnerable people are already socially isolated. Accordingly, the enforcement of social isolation may amplify their feelings of loneliness and impede their recovery from trauma. 


It also must be noted that the uncertainty surrounding food and medicine security may be another cause for anxiety among those of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds. Many refugees and asylum seekers are already disadvantaged in their standard of living and economic conditions. Furthermore, they are likely to have experienced the threat of food and medicine shortages in their country of origin. Consequently, media reports on panic buying and shortages in essential resources may trigger stress and worry among such vulnerable people to a greater degree. Read more here. 


With these considerations in mind, it is recommended that people of refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds seek reliable and up-to-date information on the virus, state regulations and overall societal conditions in the language they are most proficient in. Such information is provided by SBS and other government approved resources. By staying informed, refugees and asylum seekers are one step closer to tackling the perceived negative impacts of COVID-19 on their mental health.



Written by: Paula Campos (Hub Volunteer)

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