The impact of family separation and worry about family upon psychological adjustment in refugees resettled in Australia

Stream: Beyond the three E’s: country, community, family and individual factors associated with refugee integration
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 3.40 pm – 5.00 pm


The challenges faced by refugees following settlement in a new country are considerable. One commonly encountered stressor is separation from family members in one’s country of origin. Such separation is often a source of worry among refugees, especially if family members remain in difficult circumstances. We investigated the relationship between family separation and psychological symptoms in refugees resettled in Australia from 2013-2016. Participants were 1493 adult refugees (M = 38.6yrs, SD = 13.0) who participated in the Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) population-based study across a three-year period. Participants were assessed for psychological distress (using the Kessler-6 [K6]) and symptoms of PTSD (using the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – 8 [PTSD-8]). Latent class growth analysis (LCGA) was used to identify latent longitudinal trajectories and binary logistic regression was used to assess the contribution of family predictor variables towards PTSD-8 and K6 trajectory class membership. LCGA supported a 5-trajectory class PTSD solution: persistently very high (8.4%), persistently high (20.4%), improver (12.3%), deteriorating (13.7%), and resilient (45.3%). For K6, LCGA supported a 3-class solution: persistently high (7.4%), persistently medium-level (63.0%), and persistently low-level (29.5%). Separation from family members did not independently predict the course of psychological symptoms. In contrast, worry about family and friends contributed to the persistence of high PTSD-8 and K6 scores. The current findings suggest that, rather than separation alone, worry about family and friends contributes the persistence of high levels of psychological symptoms during the post-settlement phase.


David Berle, University of Technology Sydney
David is a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer in the Discipline of Clinical Psychology at the University of Technology Sydney. He is also a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Early Career Fellow. He has a particular research interest in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders and has recently been investigating the psychological adjustment of refugees following resettlement in Australia.

Georgia Fogden (Presenter), University of Technology Sydney
Georgia is a clinical psychology registrar who completed her Master of Clinical Psychology thesis as part of the above project.