Ecologies of care: Mental health and psychosocial support for war-affected youth in the U.S.

Cyril Bennouna, Maria Gandarilla Ocampo, Flora Cohen, Mashal Basir, Carine Allaf, Michael Wessells, Lindsay Stark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Youth resettling to the U.S. from conflict-affected countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) face countless challenges. As they cope with their experiences of armed conflict and forced migration, these girls and boys must also adjust to the language and social norms of their new society, often encountering prejudice and discrimination along the way. Previous studies indicate that schools can play a central role in facilitating this adjustment while also promoting mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. This qualitative study aims to understand the lived experiences of MENA newcomers resettled in Austin, Texas and Harrisonburg, Virginia and to assess how schools, families, and communities support their mental and psychosocial wellbeing. Methods: We held six focus group discussions across the two cities with a total of 30 youths (13-23 years) from Iraq, Syria, and Sudan. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 caregivers and 27 key informants, including teachers, administrators, service providers, and personnel from community-based organizations. Results: Guided by Bioecological Theory, our thematic analysis identifies several means by which various actors work together to support resettled adolescents. We highlight promising efforts that seek to enhance these supports, including sheltered instruction, school-parent collaboration, peer support programming, social and emotional learning initiatives, and integrated mental health centers. Conclusion: While this study underscores the resilience of newcomers and the value of local support systems, it also reflects the importance of investment in schools, mental health systems, and resettlement programs that can enable newcomers to achieve their full potential.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number47
JournalConflict and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 21 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • RefugeeMental health and psychosocial supportYouthAcculturationEducation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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