Enhancing Need Satisfaction to Reduce Psychological Distress in Syrian Refugees

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Becoming a refugee is a potent risk factor for indicators of psychological distress such as depression, generalized stress, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though research into this vulnerable population has been scant, with even less work focusing on interventions. The current study applied principles from self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2000) to develop and test an intervention aimed at increasing need-satisfying experiences in refugees of Syrian civil unrest. Forty-one refugees who fled Syria during the past 24 months and resettled in Jordan participated in the study and were randomly assigned to receive the intervention or a neutral comparison. The 1-week-long intervention alleviated some of the need frustration likely associated with refugee status, a major aim of the intervention, and also lowered refugees’ self-reported symptoms of depression and generalized stress as compared to the comparison condition, though it did not reduce symptoms of PTSD. Discussion focuses on how these findings speak to the universal importance of need satisfaction for mental health, and how need-satisfying experiences can help buffer against the profound stress of being a refugee. Avenues for longer-term or more intensive interventions that may target more severe outcomes of refugee experiences, such as PTSD symptoms, are also discussed.

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Weinstein, N., Khabbaz, F., & Legate, N. (2016). Enhancing need satisfaction to reduce psychological distress in Syrian refugees.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,  84(7), 645.

About This Study:

Outcome(s): Depression Reduction, General Distress Reduction, PTSD Reduction
Intervention(s): Mental health and psychosocial support services
Intervention Duration: 1 week
Relevant ORR Program: Ethnic Community Self-Help Program, Preferred Communities, Refugee Health Promotion, Refugee Support Services, Unaccompanied Refugee Minors
Study Type: Impact evaluation
Full Text Availability: Free
Direction of Evidence: No impact, Positive impact
Strength of Evidence: Moderate
Gender(s) of Participants: All
Age(s) of Participants: Multiple Age Groups
Region(s) of Origin of Participants: Middle East

Relevant Evidence Summaries:

The evidence was reviewed and included in the following summaries: