Scientific abstract

The aims of this thesis were to investigate 1) levels of depressive symptoms and life satisfaction among unaccompanied refugees who have been granted residence and are resettled in Norway, 2) social and demographic predictors of the level and change in depressive symptoms, and 3) the association of current life stressors and coping dispositions with psychological adjustment.

The thesis is based on self-report questionnaire data collected as part of a larger longitudinal research project within the research program the Youth, Culture and Competence Study (YCC) at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The participants were resettled between the years 2000 and 2009, and had on average lived 3-4 years in Norway at the time of participation. In addition, a sample of high school students including ethnic minority (n = 609) and majority (n = 427) youth attending three community high schools in Oslo were included as a comparison to the unaccompanied refugees (n = 223) in the second paper.

Unaccompanied refugees reported higher levels of depressive symptoms relative to the ethnic minority and majority youth. Longitudinal analyses showed that over the course of five years the overall mean level of depressive symptoms of unaccompanied refugees remained stable. However, individual trajectories varied substantially over time, as some youth experienced an increase in depressive symptoms, while others experienced a decrease, and some likely remained stable. 

Despite their higher level of depressive symptoms, unaccompanied refugees reported equally high levels of life satisfaction as both ethnic minority and majority youth in Norway. The inverse relationship between depressive symptoms and life satisfaction among unaccompanied refugees was weaker than among the ethnic majority youth, and findings in other studies. This indicates that positive and negative aspects of their mental health go hand in hand as they are adjusting to life in their new country.

Social and demographic predictors of depressive symptoms indicated both resilient and vulnerable subgroups. Girls reported more depressive symptoms than boys. Unaccompanied refugees originating from Somalia reported lower levels of depressive symptoms than others. Longitudinal analyses indicated a decline in depressive symptoms over time among unaccompanied refugees from African countries in general relative to those from Asian countries. Findings also showed a significant decline in depressive symptoms among unaccompanied refugees who had contact with family members in Norway.

Daily hassles common to all youth, such as problems with family, friends and school or work, were significant risk factors for depressive symptoms. A latent trajectory model of the longitudinal relation between daily hassles and depressive symptoms among the unaccompanied refugees indicated a parallel process over time. Disengagement coping, i.e. strategies directed away from the source of stress or negative emotions, predicted higher levels of depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction among unaccompanied refugees and the other youth. Engagement coping did not have a significant effect on depressive symptoms among the unaccompanied refugees, in contrast to the other youth. 

Daily hassles and coping also predicted variation in life satisfaction, but there seems to be other factors that are more important predictors for this particular adjustment outcome. Nevertheless, the higher levels of daily hassles among the unaccompanied refugees’ showed a small, but significant suppressing effect on their life satisfaction relative to the other youth, indicating that at the same level of stressors their level of life satisfaction would be higher.

These findings illuminate the importance of current life circumstances for the psychological adjustment of unaccompanied refugees after resettlement, and of having a focus on both mental problems and well-being for a more comprehensive understanding of their psychological adjustment.

Publisert 26. nov. 2012 14:12