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“In our community, a friend is a psychologist”: An ethnographic study of informal care in two Bhutanese refugee communities

The recent rise in suicide among Bhutanese refugees has been linked to the erosion of social networks and community supports in the ongoing resettlement process. This paper presents ethnographic findings on the role of informal care practiced by relatives, friends, and neighbors in the prevention and alleviation of mental distress in two Bhutanese refugee communities: the refugee camps of eastern Nepal and the resettled community of Burlington, Vermont, US. Data gathered through interviews (n = 40, camp community n = 22, resettled community), focus groups (four, camp community), and participant observation (both sites) suggest that family members, friends, and neighbors were intimately involved in the recognition and management of individual distress, often responding proactively to perceived vulnerability rather than reactively to help-seeking. They engaged practices of care that attended to the root causes of distress, including pragmatic, social, and spiritual interventions, alongside those which targeted feelings in the “heart-mind” and behavior. In line with other studies, we found that the possibilities for care in this domain had been substantially constrained by resettlement. Initiatives that create opportunities for strengthening or extending social networks or provide direct support in meeting perceived needs may represent fruitful starting points for suicide prevention and mental health promotion in this population. We close by offering some reflections on how to better understand and account for informal care systems in the growing area of research concerned with identifying and addressing disparities in mental health resources across diverse contexts.

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Key Information

Type of Reference
Jour
Type of Work
Journal article
Publisher
Sage
ISBN/ISSN
1363-4615
Publication Year
2017
Issue Number
3
Journal Titles
Transcultural Psychiatry
Volume Number
54
Start Page
400
End Page
422