What is the impact of peer support groups on refugees’ mental health?

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Evidence Summary
July 2020

Peer support groups can be a valuable component of comprehensive refugee resettlement services.

  • There is moderate evidence for positive impacts of peer support groups among some refugee communities. Such groups appear to provide a unique benefit to both participants and leaders in enhancing social connections, knowledge of community resources, improvements in mental health, acculturation, and other outcomes.
  • Many peer support groups are inherently culturally appropriate and strengths-based.They recognize and build refugees' strengths, including by offering opportunities to support one another through community-based activities. They can also promote refugees’ meaningful engagement as agents of change within their communities.

Member characteristics should be considered in composing groups.

  • Group work appears most effective with small groups of people who have had similar experiences; thus, groups are ideally composed of ethnically homogenous members. For members of cultures with certain defined gender roles, gender-segregated groups are preferable. Special steps should also be taken to promote engagement and retention of youth and families in multi-family groups.

It is possible that online peer support groups may be a feasible and effective option for refugees.

  • Research indicates that online support groups are effective in the general population, even among those with low digital literacy. Resettlement providers should explore refugees’ interest in participating in online support groups, along with the considerations needed to make such groups accessible and appropriate, such as digital literacy and access to digital technology among participants.

More impact evaluation studies are needed on the effectiveness of peer support groups.

  • Rigorous evidence about the effectiveness of peer support groups is limited. Randomized controlled trials of this modality have been shown to be feasible and acceptable by refugee participants, and more such studies, especially regarding online groups, should be conducted.
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