War-Related Trauma

According to Statistics Canada (2019), Canada admitted 313,580 immigrants in 2019 in which 29,950 were refugees, and 64,050 were asylum claimants. The Canadian Council for Refugees (2010) defines a refugee as an individual who has been forced to flee persecution and is unable to return to their home country. An asylum seeker is defined as an individual who has fled their home country and is asking a host country for protection, but their refugee status is ambiguous until their case has been decided. Unlike immigrants who made a voluntary decision to leave their home country, refugees and asylum claimants are forced to leave their homes due to politically oppressive or war-torn environments. For many, the experience to flee one’s home country is abrupt and involves little to no planning. These pre-migratory experiences lead to a large number of refugees and asylum seekers to develop war-related traumas. In addition to escaping violent environments, refugees are also likely to be fleeing precarious economic situations, coping with grief, and even develop trauma-related disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or substance abuse. According to a study by Anderson et al (2015), they found that refugees had a higher risk of having a psychotic disorder than both non-refugee migrants and the general population. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop in people who have indirectly or directly experienced/witnessed an event that resulted in harm to oneself or others or it was threatened (APA, 2020). Common symptoms associated with PTSD are re-experiencing the event through flashbacks or nightmares, intense feelings of sadness, anger or fear, and feeling detached from other people. Family members who are exposed to trauma can exhibit symptoms of their trauma in different ways. Parents/caregivers may become more preoccupied, depressed, or anxious to a point at which it interferes with their ability to properly care for their families. The psychological well-being of parents/caregivers is a primary determinant factor for the mental health of adolescent refugees (Thomas & Lau, 2002). Research suggests that adolescent refugees are at greater risk for PTSD if they are living with traumatized parents/caregivers. War-related trauma can have everlasting consequences on family dynamics, which can carry on from generation to generation. CTSC seeks to educate students and community-based workers on the effects of war-related trauma and how to equip professionals with the resources to prevent future retraumatization of refugees and asylum seekers. 


American Psychiatric Association. (2020, January). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

Anderson, K. K., Cheng, J., Susser, E., McKenzie, K. J., & Kurdyak, P. (2015). Incidence of psychotic disorders among first-generation immigrants and refugees in Ontario. Cmaj187(9), E279-E286.

The Canadian Council for Refugees. (2010, September). Refugees and Immigrants: A glossary. Retrieved from https://ccrweb.ca/en/glossary

Thomas, T., & Lau, W. 2002. Psychological Well Being of Child and Adolescent Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Overview of Major Research

Government of Canada, S. C. (2019, September 30). Canada’s population estimates: Age and sex, July 1, 2019. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190930/dq190930a-eng.htm