The experiences of refugees before they come to Australia significantly affect their physical and mental health. Refugees have fled persecution and many have been subject to torture, suffering trauma as a result of war and conflict and are more vulnerable to health issues.
Many spend years displaced and in insecure conditions, moving between places or in refugee camps with little access to health care. These experiences and conditions mean many refugees will have significant health problems.
When they get to Australia, the process of settling itself can be extremely stressful and also make their health worse.
There are some common challenges they face in looking after their health in Australia.
Using health services
People will often have little knowledge about health care services, which means they don’t use them as much as they could. There are many things that influence their use: for example, their age, gender, financial hardship, education, cultural beliefs and practices. As well, how often they use services will depend on how close they are to those services, and the suitability and competence of those services.
Use of interpreters
A common experience is that health care providers do not use interpreters often enough, making it difficult for people to understand and access those services.
Many people come without family or friends, and feel isolated in their new communities. This can make worse existing mental health issues. Another challenge is that many people have been separated for long periods from their families, which causes significant distress.
As well, their experiences of persecution and during flight may only appear some time after they have come to Australia. This means that former refugees may need mental health services for some time after they are no longer eligible for them.
Of course, in general there are not enough mental health services for people in Australia, making matters worse.
Sexual and reproductive health
Many young people come to Australia with limited information about sexual and reproductive health. It can be hard for them to learn about sexual and reproductive health in the Australian context, especially if there is no appropriate family or other support.
Food and nutrition
Before coming to Australia, many refugees have lived for years with limited access to food. This leads to poor nutrition. It can be challenging for them to learn about food choices and their effects in Australia.