The relation between post-migration experiences and psychosocial wellbeing : an exploratory study of the perceptions of highly educated refugees in the U.K.
This study explores how highly educated refugees in the U.K. perceive the relation between their post-migration experiences and their psychosocial well-being. A literature review of the migration and psychological health area and the widely-used stress and coping approach revealed that the “vulnerable” and “passive” images have all too often been assigned to refugees when discussing their psychological health, and that the latter have often been approached as beings detached from their social context. The aim of the research was to explore the participants’ own perceptions (or “lay narratives”) of their experiences and their well-being. These were used to converse with the stress and coping concepts and with the images related to psychological activism, an alternative stress and coping perspective that views people as active agents who try to take control of their life, instead of mere passive recipients of stress. The study is based on constructivism, and accordingly the emphasis is put on the subjective world of experience and the researcher critically reflects on how the social context shapes the participants’ perceptions. The empirical work consists of two studies. In the first one, semi-structured interviews were carried out with fifteen young and highly educated refugees in the U.K. The findings highlight how the participants used the stress and coping concepts and the images related to psychological activism, so the value of such concepts is reconfirmed. But a deeper critical look reveals that the semi-structured interviewing may have strongly directed how the participants discussed their perceptions and that it was unclear how these perceptions are formed in social interaction. Consequently I conducted additional empirical work to carry the emerging issues further. In the second study, autobiographical narrative interviews were carried out with another group of fifteen highly educated refugees in the U.K. The findings reveal that they made sense of their experiences and their well-being through three distinctive stories. The stories of hope and survival presented by two subgroups of participants suggest a more balanced view of refugees, one that is not necessarily “vulnerable” and “passive”. These participants made sense of their experiences and well-being through the elements of “hope, persistence and activism”. But the story of disappointment presented by a third subgroup revealed that some participants did not perceive their experiences and their well-being through a positive lens. It also highlighted the need to further explore how they formed their perceptions in social interaction. Indeed, it was shown how the social context, particularly negative attitudes they received at the community level, was largely responsible for their narrative of disappointment. The theoretical contribution of this research lies in exploring how the participants, through their own narratives, made sense of the concepts of stress and coping. The methodological contribution refers to the bridging of ideas and previous work from other disciplines and to the innovative application of narrative interviewing to this population. A major practical contribution is that this research offered a channel for refugees to talk about their experiences and their well-being in their own words. Furthermore, possible explanations emerge on why some refugee groups can indeed seem “vulnerable” and “passive” and this has important implications for those who design and implement interventions aimed at enhancing the well-being of refugees.