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Title page for ETD etd-07222015-125321

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Martin-Willett, Renée
URN etd-07222015-125321
Title Misplaced/Displaced: Defining the ‘Refugee’ Category
Degree Master of Arts
Department Medicine, Health, and Society
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
JuLeigh Petty Committee Chair
Dominique Behague Committee Member
  • refugee
  • mental health
  • screening
  • global health
Date of Defense 2015-07-14
Availability unrestricted
Refugees from disparate locations are consolidated and reconsolidated under the ‘refugee’ label as they are displaced and later resettled, and the accumulated layers of movement and categorization also create new layers of acculturation. But in addition to the experience of negotiating and internalizing multiple cultures, the way you are asked about that process, what you are asked about it, and in what context can also influence acculturation attitudes.

Being consistently asked about negative psychological states through mental health screening tools that quantify depression, anxiety, or PTSD may not allow for the occupation of multiple, simultaneous states of acculturation, nor do they allow for acculturation and emotional experience as a dynamic process. Continuing to over-apply these screening tools in clinical and non-clinical practice and in research recapitulates the homogenization of “traumatized” groups, acting to create categories defined by trauma and anxiety, and obscuring important dimensions of resilience.

As a partial result of international and domestic refugee resettlement policies, refugees are ‘created’ as a homogenous, traumatized category. The statistical instruments that characterize refugee mental health further legitimize this category and are used too broadly in clinical, non-clinical and scholarly contexts. According to my empirical evidence, a paradigm shift towards wellbeing and resilience would better align with self-characterizations of mental health by refugees and clinical and non-clinical professionals working on the ground in resettlement. Importantly, it would also undermine the homogenous category of the “traumatized refugee.”

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