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My heart is in two places: ontological security, emotions and the health of African refugee women in Tasmania


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Hutchinson, HE 2010 , 'My heart is in two places: ontological security, emotions and the health of African refugee women in Tasmania', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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For historical reasons the Australian health system has been linked to immigration
since the time of the first settlement and has retained its control of immigration health
and its influence on settlement policy. Health professionals interpret emotional
distress as a mental disorder, so that health provisions for refugees, who are perceived
by Australian health professionals as necessarily suffering from traumatic
experiences as a result of war, torture and terror, have focussed on mental health.
While the health system has addressed many cultural issues considered by Western
health authorities to have an effect on the health of refugee women such as problems
of access, of communication, and the perceived insensitivity of health staff to cultural
values and practices, other differences should also be taken into consideration.
This research project uses a unique combination of qualitative research methods to
trace the impact of forced separation from family members remaining in Africa on
the health of refugee women from Sudan, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. In contrast to
other studies of transnational families, refugee families are identified as "stretched" in
Massey's (1994) sense of retaining close relationships over distance, and also
"stretched" in terms of the emotional strain of caring for family members who are in
constant danger. "Stretched" also applies to the economic burdens which must be
met to comply with family obligations and the requirements of the immigration and
health systems before family members can be re-united with those in Australia.
Participants in this research, who are often described by researchers as victims, and
without agency, react to forced separation from their families by implementing
strategies to bring their family members to Australia. Employment is a priority
because they must also support their family members in another country, save money
for sponsorship, medicals and transport, as well as support themselves in Australia.
In order to find work they have to overcome barriers which include learning a foreign
language, undergoing work training and gaining work experience. The emotional
stress which results from the passage of time, the search for employment, the
uncertainties of the family reunion process, and the availability of modern technologies, which connect refugees to the lives of their family members on a daily
basis, have embodied consequences for participants in the research.
Western health systems interpret emotional pain as either of physical or mental
origin, and apply appropriate medical treatments. However the embodied emotional
pain experienced by the participants in this study is directly related to the
circumstances of family separation and is only relieved when their family members
are safe in Australia. Emotions are culturally created to respond to cultural values.
Ontological insecurity is experienced as a result of ongoing social, emotional and
physical stress due to unmet expectations. The body suffers from the stress created
by the emotional determinants of health. Emotion, ontological insecurity and
embodied health are connected through culture and social structure. Social ills
require social healing.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Hutchinson, HE
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2010 the author

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