The mental health status of Mayan refugees after repatriation to Guatemala

  • Sabin M
  • Sabin K
  • Kim H
 et al. 
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OBJECTIVE: Only one previous study had examined the epidemiology of mental health in Guatemalan refugees. The objective of this new study was to estimate the prevalence of mental illness and to assess factors associated with poor mental health among Guatemalan Mayan refugees who had been repatriated to Guatemala after spending 12-18 years in refugee camps in Mexico, and to compare the results for the repatriated Guatemalans with those for Guatemalan refugees who were continuing to live in Mexico. METHODS: In 2001 a cross-sectional survey of adults (> or = 16 years) was conducted with random household sampling proportional to the population size in each of the five repatriation villages surveyed. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression were measured by the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25. RESULTS: Together, the five repatriation villages had 565 households. Of the 565 households, 203 of them were approached to solicit study participation. A total of 179 households (one adult per household) agreed to participate, representing an overall participation rate of 88%, and one-third of all the households in the five communities. The respondents had personally experienced a mean of 5.5 trauma events and had witnessed a mean of 7.3 other trauma events. Of the respondents, 8.9% met the symptom criteria for PTSD, 17.3% for anxiety, and 47.8% for depression. PTSD was associated with being seriously wounded and with having relatives or friends mutilated. Logistic regression analyses indicated that anxiety was associated with being sexually assaulted, being female, having friends or family mutilated, being seriously wounded, and having 6-12 children (vs. having 1-5 children). Depression was associated with having 6-12 children. Anxiety was significantly more prevalent among the refugees remaining in Mexico (54.4%) than it was among the repatriated refugees (17.3%). The difference in the prevalence rates was not significant for PTSD (11.8% for refugees remaining in Mexico vs. 8.9% for those repatriated) or for depression (38.8% for refugees remaining in Mexico vs. 47.8% for those repatriated). CONCLUSIONS: Psychiatric morbidity was common among the repatriated Mayans. The repatriation of refugees involves moving an already vulnerable, often traumatized population back to a place of distressing memories and still-unsettled conditions. There is a need to consider and plan for adequate mental health services for repatriating refugees.

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  • Miriam Sabin

  • Keith Sabin

  • Hyoung Yong Kim

  • Marianela Vergara

  • Luis Varese

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