Exploring socio-cultural factors that mediate, facilitate, & constrain the health and empowerment of refugee youth
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Studies on youth health and well-being are predominantly quantitative and expert-driven with less attention given to how youth understand what it means to be healthy themselves and the role of socio-cultural factors in shaping this. Knowledge on the perceptions and experiences of refugee youth is particularly lacking and notable given their unique stressors related to migratory, settlement and integration experiences. We contribute a better understanding of how refugee youth themselves define and contextualize health, with particular emphasis given to socio-cultural factors that enable or constrain health promotion efforts and individual health agency. This research was undertaken at a downtown drop-in centre in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada that provided settlement and integration services to newcomer youth. We employ a grounded theory approach and draw upon participant observation, focus groups and in-depth interviews. Twenty-six youth (age 18-25 years), representing 12 different countries of origin participated. The youth defined health very broadly touching upon many typical determinants of health (e.g. education, income, etc.). Yet factors of most importance (as demonstrated by the frequency and urgency in which they were discussed by youth) included a sense of belonging, positive self-identity, emotional well-being, and sense of agency or self-determination. We conceptualize these as "mediating" factors given the youth argued they enabled or constrained their ability to cope with adversities related to other health determinant categories. The youth also discussed what we interpret as "facilitators" that encourage mediating factors to manifest positively (e.g. informal, non-biomedical settings and programs that nurture trust, break down access barriers, and promote a sense of community amongst peers, mentors, and health professionals). When creating health promotion strategies for refugee youth (and perhaps youth more generally) it is important to understand the factors that may mediate the magnitude of effects from various risks/stressors, in addition to those which facilitate health agency.
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