Lurie, Ido, and Ora Nakash. “Exposure to Trauma and Forced Migration: Mental Health and Acculturation Patterns Among Asylum Seekers in Israel.” In Trauma and Migration. Cultural Factors in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Traumatised Immigrants (ed. Meryam Schouler-Ocak; New York: Amsterdam; 2015), 139-56.
Immigration is a process of loss and change which entails significant sociopsychological stress and possible effects on the mental health of immigrants. Over the last few decades, the State of Israel has become a target for forced migration. Since 2006 specifically, asylum seekers from East Africa (mainly Eritrea and Sudan) have been arriving in Israel.
In the current chapter, we first outline the phenomenon of forced migration to Israel and the living conditions of migrants once they arrive in Israel. We then describe the relationship between forced migration and mental health, both in adults and adolescents, as well as the connection between acculturation and mental health. Following this, we describe studies conducted with forced migrants in Israel, mainly Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. We carried out three studies; within the population of service users at the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)-Israel’s Open Clinic, we documented the exposure of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to traumatic events during their journey to Israel. Our findings indicate that among a sample of adult African asylum seekers who arrived at the Open Clinic, a considerable percentage of men and women reported having witnessed violence and/or having been a victim of violence during migration to Israel.
Next, we examined the relationship between acculturation patterns and mental health symptoms among asylum seekers who arrived at the Open Clinic (N = 118). Assimilated asylum seekers reported higher (or more) depressive symptoms compared to integrated asylum seekers. Acculturation predicted depressive symptoms among adult asylum seekers beyond reports of experiences of traumatic events and the effect of history of detention.
Then, also describe the results of a study examining the role of acculturation, perceived discrimination and self-esteem in predicting mental health symptoms and risk behaviours among 1.5 and second-generation non-Jewish adolescents born to migrant families compared to native-born Jewish Israeli adolescents in Israel. Migrant adolescents across generations reported more severe mental health symptoms compared to native-born Jewish Israelis. However, only the 1.5 generation migrants reported higher engagement in risk behaviours compared to second-generation migrants and native-born Jewish Israelis. Similar to the adult sample, adolescents also showed that acculturation plays an important role in predicting the mental health status of migrant youths; adolescents showing integrated acculturative patterns reported fewer mental health symptoms than those with assimilated acculturation patterns.
The findings regarding the exposure of East African asylum seekers to traumatic events highlight the need to gather information regarding all phases of forced migration, from experiences in the home country through the journey to the host country. Our findings on acculturation draw attention to the paradox of assimilation and the mental health risks it poses for adult asylum seekers and adolescent immigrants wishing to integrate into the new culture at the expense of their original culture. Mental health professionals should be culturally aware of this vulnerability in therapeutic interventions with forced migrants. Policy makers may consider the benefits of the restrictive policies that have characterised many industrial countries in recent years.