When refugees resettle in the United States, social support is one of the main resources they rely on to overcome the negative health outcomes associated with the various dimensions of stress and trauma that they experience. Refugee households in the U.S. have lower median income than other migrant groups and the population at large, and may have difficulty navigating daily life due to language barrier. Additionally, refugees are more likely to experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and more likely than other migrant groups to report at least one chronic condition.
Existing literature points to how gender inequalities can exacerbate negative health outcomes, and this is no different among refugee groups in the U.S. Separation from established support networks, including childcare, can make resettlement especially stressful for marginalized women. The effect of these circumstances on women is cumulative, creating a significant mental and physical health burden that compounds external stressors emerging from being in a new country. Social support is associated with lower mortality, lower perceptions of stress in the general U.S. population and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. This project characterizes social support from 8 dimensions, being practical, adjustment, emotional, spiritual, affirmational, and social network, social connection supports. However, the meaning of social support is shaped by culture, context and gender roles within social groups. Current research does not sufficiently address differences in meaning on social support, meaning that there isn’t sufficient evidence to support the development of a cross-culturally validated multi-dimensional measure of social support among refugee women. With strong empirical evidence that factors in diverse interpretations of social support, it is possible to develop evidence-based interventions to improve the mental and physical health of refugee women.
Thus, the main goal of this project is to validate the Women in Resettlement Social Support Scale (WR-SSS) and deploy it in a longitudinal mixed methods study, towards understanding the pathways through which social support contributes to alleviating resettlement stress and adverse health outcomes. The insights of community organizations and practitioners are necessary for promoting health equity among minority groups in this project. With a novel methodological approach to studying the protective role of social support and cross-cultural focus, our ultimate objective is to establish a strong empirical basis for identifying and addressing under-explored dimensions of refugee women’s wellbeing.