Mental health literacy among refugee communities: differences between the Australian lay public and the Iraqi and Sudanese refugee communities

  • Samantha MayEmail author
  • Ronald M. Rapee
  • Mariano Coello
  • Shakeh Momartin
  • Jorge Aroche
Original Paper



This study investigated differences in mental health knowledge and beliefs between participants from the Iraqi and Sudanese refugee communities, and Australian-born individuals, in Sydney, Australia.


Ninety-seven participants were given vignettes of characters describing symptoms of major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress. They were required to identify psychological symptoms as disorders, rate beliefs about the causes of and helpful treatments for these disorders, and rate attitude statements regarding the two characters.


Australian participants recognized the presented symptoms as specific mental disorders significantly more than Iraqi and Sudanese participants did, and reported causal and treatment beliefs which were more congruent with expert beliefs as per the western medical model of mental disorder. The Sudanese group endorsed supernatural and religious causal beliefs regarding depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms most often; but both Sudanese and Iraqi participants strongly supported options from the supernatural and religious treatment items. However, evidence for pluralistic belief systems was also found.


Although sampling was non-random, suggesting caution in the interpretation of results, it appears that the mental health literacy of lay Australians may be more aligned with the western medical model of mental disorder than that of Iraqi and Sudanese refugee communities. Mental health literacy support needs of Iraqi and Sudanese refugee communities resettled in western countries such as Australia might include education about specific symptoms and causes of mental disorder and the effectiveness of psychiatric treatments. These findings provide useful directions for the promotion of optimal service utilization among such communities.


Mental health literacy Refugees Pluralism 


Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha May
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ronald M. Rapee
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mariano Coello
    • 3
  • Shakeh Momartin
    • 3
  • Jorge Aroche
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Emotional HealthMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)CarramarAustralia

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