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Study shows migrant teens are more resilient to trauma than other youths

A new study has found that migrant teenagers who have moved within their own country or overseas are more resilient and better able to recover from trauma than teenagers who have not moved from their hometown.

Researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) compared the mental health and wellbeing of youths aged 10-17 in order to identify whether migrants or non-migrants are better able to function after experiencing trauma.

The global study, published in Frontiers, examined 194 youths who were born in or had migrated to: Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand (NZ), South Africa and the United Kingdom (UK).

“Our study showed youths who have migrated from their hometowns have higher levels of wellbeing and resilience following trauma experienced in the previous year. In comparison, non-migrant adolescents, who had not moved from their birthplace, had lower levels of wellbeing and resilience following trauma exposure,” said Dr Justine Gatt at NeuRA who led the study.

The types of adverse life events the youths had experienced include abuse, life-threatening accidents, combat or war experience, and the death of a family member or close friend.

Dr Gatt’s team used over ten measurements to identify levels of resilience, wellbeing, depression and anxiety symptoms and behavioural problems.

“There are several reasons as to why migrant youth are better placed to recover after trauma than other youth. It could be that families who do choose to relocate have the external resources needed to enable migration from country to country; whether that is familial, social or financial,” Dr Gatt said.

“It is also possible that young migrants may have moved away from the environment where their trauma took place. Compared to non-migrant youths, who are often still living in the environment in which their trauma occurred,” she said.

About 20 per cent of youths experience mental disorders, half of which begin before the age 14. Left untreated, these conditions can severely impact personal and educational development and increase the risk of suicide.