Sitting here, figuratively near beautiful downtown Burbank, I sometimes wonder about the status of refugees from around the world. There are many refugees, and they face daunting challenges. A whole bunch of the refugees are in their first two decades of life and didn’t get their footing in their old society yet, and now they are cut loose from their moorings.
VT currently has a section for Health & Wellness that has a subheading Science & Research. How apposite to take note of that interconnectedness. Our wellness in all its forms is often impacted by the research that we scout out and choose to act on.
Yes, there is evidence that the saying, it’s a dog eat dog world, is true to some extent and in some cases in every nation. But we can resist pessimism and despair by endorsing concrete action through measured approaches. ~ Erica P. Wissinger
Long-term challenges — For people fleeing conflict, difficulties do not end after escaping the war zone. Exposure to conflict, especially in early life, can have long-term effects on physical health.
According to Steven Haas, associate professor of sociology, war can have enduring impacts on health by severely altering or limiting what people have available to eat, changing how people’s bodies react to stress, and by limiting people’s ability to work, and access markets, schools, and other material and social resources.
“I’ve examined European adults who were exposed as children to hostilities during World War II. My work with recent Penn State doctoral graduate Daniel Ramirez shows that such exposures have substantial scarring effects on children and that they carry these scars throughout their lives,” Haas said.
For example, according to Haas, children exposed to war grow up to have substantially worse health in adulthood. This includes higher rates of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and hypertension, as well as increased risk of physical limitations and worse self-rated health.
“War and trauma also take a toll on mental health,” said Haas. “We’ve found that people who were exposed to conflict during WWII were more likely to experience depression and to take up unhealthy coping behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Similar patterns have been found among modern-day displaced populations.”
In other work, Population Research Institute Affiliate and University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor of Anthropology Yolanda Covington-Ward studies the experiences of Liberian immigrants and refugees in the Pittsburgh area. The small West African nation of Liberia suffered through 14 years of civil war from 1989 to 2003.
Covington-Ward’s research shows that the war had dire consequences for the Liberians who fled. Liberians in Pittsburgh describe the loss of human life — family, friends, and neighbors — but also the loss of property, educational and job opportunities, entire neighborhoods, and having to face the challenges of physical and mental health consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
In Covington-Ward’s studies, one interviewee explained, “Some of us [are] very traumatized.” Another interviewee described the enduring impact of being shot as a child during the war: “Mentally … I don’t like to watch … war show[s] on T.V., even the fireworks because … I’m thinking … is it a gun shot or something?”