Refugees are at greater risk for infectious diseases, trauma, violence, and insufficient access to healthcare. For pregnant female refugees, these dangers are heightened due to the possibility of prenatal complications.
While migrant and refugee women are entitled to healthcare services in the host country, they still experience challenges that impede their access to proper healthcare. These can include cultural differences, racial prejudice, language barriers, and limited financial resources. Therefore, female refugees are in an extremely vulnerable position.
As such, we should prioritize pregnant refugee women’s mental health. Alongside proper physical care, we need to set systems to give them accessible therapy and counseling services. In doing so, we provide them with a better chance of integrating and thriving in our communities.
Read on to find out how therapy is beneficial for pregnant refugee women.
For Pregnancy Complications
Up to 15% of pregnant refugee and immigrant women experience life-threatening obstetric complications. Pregnant refugees and immigrants have an increased risk of adverse perinatal outcomes. As much as 47.7% of pregnant Syrian refugees suffer miscarriages, while other infants die during or shortly after childbirth.
Because of these prenatal complications, the risk of mental health issues among pregnant refugees is higher. In addition, other factors related to pregnancy and childbirth may pose negative effects on their mental health. These factors include:
- congenital anomalies,
- stillbirths, and
- cesarean sections.
In such events, a woman may feel depressed and isolated. Feelings of guilt, anger, anxiety and overwhelming grief may arise. To address these experiences, therapy can help them in
- easing the pain of their loss,
- regaining control over their emotions,
- working through their worries,
- eliminating fears of pregnancy, and
- healing faster.
For Traumatic Experiences
Many events and factors can cause trauma, such as war, abuse, and poverty. Often, refugees have experienced all three. After fleeing their homes, they are usually forced to live under dire circumstances. Lack of access to water and electricity and food scarcity are just some of the problems they face. These poor conditions lead to more issues, such as malnutrition.
The difficulties of poverty are even more prominent among refugees, especially pregnant women. They may be so busy surviving, scavenging for food and shelter that they disregard their prenatal needs. Their feelings of stress and powerlessness may also increase because of:
- financial issues
- employment insecurities
- infectious diseases
- poor housing conditions
All these factors can contribute to the trauma they experience.
So, therapy should be accessible to help pregnant refugee women as they work through their trauma. Through therapy, they can learn skills on how to manage symptoms and develop healthy coping strategies. Ongoing nutritional support, counseling, and early intervention are also critical for having a healthy and safe pregnancy.
For Sexual Violence
Sexual and domestic abuse can traumatize an individual. All genders suffer from this type of trauma. But women have the highest rate of suffering from sexual and domestic abuse. An estimated 90% of sexual assault victims are female.
It is common for pregnant women with a history of sexual abuse to have traumatic flashbacks, even before or during childbirth. Refugee women have been found to suffer most from intimate partner violence, domestic violence, or other forms of gender-based violence. Due to cultural differences, refugee women might hesitate to speak up about the abuse. They fear that perceptions toward this type of violence would only lead to more emotional hurt.
Exposure to violence can affect maternal and newborn health outcomes. A study in Switzerland found that immigrant women were more likely to be exposed to violence during pregnancy. Trafficked or infibulated women may find it difficult to access maternity care due to the fear of disclosing details of their situation.
Sexual violence might make it harder for refugee women to avail themselves of prenatal care. Reluctance to seek healthcare leads to several pregnancy complications and, in severe cases, death. Therefore, victims of abuse, especially pregnant refugee victims, should receive therapy. Counseling and therapy will help them:
- move past the trauma
- reclaim their sexual health
- improve their physical health
- feel empowered again
There is an increased risk of mental illnesses and depression in refugee women during the pregnancy and perinatal phases. Though there may be other causes of depression, the factors indicated above may only worsen their diagnosis. To a grave extent, mental illness might even push them to suicide. Other factors affecting their mental health include social isolation, language barriers, and belonging to an ethnic minority.
Having a solid support group is crucial for pregnant women. However, many refugees and immigrant childbearing women lack social networks. This negligence leaves them feeling:
- deeply distressed
Without support, women become worried about having no one to turn to for advice, making child-rearing more difficult and causing tension between spouses.
Pregnant refugee and immigrant women are in dire need of access to psychological help and appropriate support programs. More than making them feel supported, therapy helps them to:
- address the root of their problems
- manage stress and emotions better
- foster good relationships
- develop adaptive coping mechanisms
Therapy is indeed crucial for pregnant refugee women to ensure a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth. However, several barriers hinder their access to proper healthcare, such as:
- language barriers
- cultural differences
- discrimination and prejudice
- biases and stereotypes
Federal funding cuts, the time-sensitive nature of perinatal care, and limited resources paired with refugee influxes could also pose additional challenges. As we begin to recognize other determinants of health, mental well-being, alongside physical well-being, is becoming just as important. Thus, maternity services should incorporate therapy and develop trauma-informed care to:
- promote a culture of safety
- form trusting relationships between pregnant refugee women and healthcare providers
- support the needs of these vulnerable women and their children properly
The multi-layered barriers that refugee women face can make their pregnancy even more challenging. So, developing programs and interventions that will provide them with adequate healthcare services is essential. Health, after all, is everyone’s fundamental right, including refugees.