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Family and Community Support for Arabic-Speaking Refugees in Chicago

  • Project Site Location

    Chicago, Illinois

  • UIC CGH Faculty Contact

    Mary Bunn, PhD, LCSW

Project Summary Heading link

The impact of conflict and political terror on individuals, families, and communities is an escalating global reality with one in seven individuals living in conflict-affected countries and more than 75 million forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide, one third of whom are refugees. In addition to the long-term economic, safety, and legal vulnerabilities resulting from such experiences, armed conflict and forced migration contribute to systematic ruptures to social-relational networks. This includes family separation, conflict and discord within families, and losses to social networks. The losses and strain on these important family and community relationships compound risks for mental health problems and contribute to high levels of social isolation.

Yet, the family and community are also vital sources of support for refugees, important for health and wellbeing and coping with the effects of trauma and stress. The degree to which refugees are able to rebuild and sustain family and community relationships may be an important indicator for their long-term wellbeing. What remains unknown, however, is what kinds of programs or practices strengthen these social relationships and thus improve mental health.

Our research team, led by Dr. Mary Bunn along with staff from the Department of Psychiatry, Global Medicine students, and refugee community leaders, is working with community partners in Chicago to understand the unique psychosocial challenges faced by Syrian and Iraqi refugees and develop a prevention-oriented intervention that reduces mental health problems and strengthens protective resources, including family and community relationships. The first phase of the project focuses on conducting in-depth interviews with Syrian and Iraqi parents and children to identify risk and protective processes within families and the broader community, help-seeking preferences and ecological resources. Using a community consultation approach, the project convenes key stakeholders in the refugee resettlement field to share findings from the interviews and prioritize interventions. The project concludes with a proof-of-concept pilot with a sample of Arab-speaking refugee families to assess initial acceptability and feasibility. Project collaborators include Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center, Syrian Community Network, Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance (MIRA) and the Society of Arab American Neighborhood Development (SANAD).