New study amongst Syrian refugees reveals focus on ideals as a resilience factor for mental wellbeing

  • Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Dr Karl-Andrew from the Department of Psychology together with researchers from Germany and Turkey conducted a study investigating individual coping strategies and symptoms of depression and anxiety amongst over 400 Syrian refugees.

Civil war, flight, escape and expulsion are extremely stressful experiences and create a negative impact on refugees’ mental health. Scientific research about resilience and coping of refugees is scarce. In the recent refugee crisis, calls have been made to consider factors contributing to coping and resilience in this vulnerable population.

This study specifically measured individual differences in Syrian refugees’ so-called promotion focus (on nurturance needs, ideals, and gains) and prevention focus (on security needs, obligations, and losses).

The following results were found for the various coping mechanisms in facing depression and anxiety:

  • Problem-focused coping (dealing with the stressor to remove it or to diminish its impact) had a negative (Turkey) or no impact (Germany) on mental wellbeing – contrary to it generally being considered effective.
  • Maladaptive coping (not dealing with the stressor or its associated distress) had a negative impact on mental wellbeing in both samples.
  • A promotion focus (on ideals, see above, which goes along with taking chances, seizing opportunities and being optimistic) had direct effects on decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression and an indirect effect by reducing maladaptive coping.

These results highlight a promotion focus as a clear resilience factor and the role of maladaptive coping in increasing vulnerability.

Dr Woltin said “More broadly, the study suggests that apart from interventions targeting a reduction in maladaptive coping, instilling a promotion focus in refugees can be expected to have beneficial consequences. The findings also point out that problem-focused coping – trying to change whatever is causing stress – might only work in one’s favour if this aimed at something one can actually achieve.”

To read the full journal article, please click here.

The Department of Psychology staff have a passion for psychology and their real-life experience informs their teaching on our degrees.