Refugee Students’ Psychological Wellbeing and Experiences in the Australian Education System: A Mixed-methods Investigation

Tahereh Ziaian, Helena de Anstiss, Teresa Puvimanasinghe, Emily Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Refugee children and adolescents are widely acknowledged to experience multiple disadvantages that place them at increased risk of poor education and employment outcomes, which in turn affect their mental health and well-being. The aim of this study is to explore the interconnection between their educational and schooling experiences, and mental health outcomes. 

Method: We used a mixed methods approach. Participants included a multiethnic sample of 495 South Australian refugee children (4–12 years) and adolescents (13–17 years) from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and former Yugoslavia. Mental health outcomes were assessed using the Children's Depression Inventory (CDI) and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Thirteen focus groups with 85 refugee adolescents aged 13–17 years explored their educational experiences and well-being. 

Results: Quantitative analysis revealed differences between teacher, parent, and adolescent self-ratings, with teachers identifying a higher proportion of refugee students with mental health problems than parents or adolescents. The focus groups identified inadequate educational support, parental pressure to excel, heavy family and household responsibilities, supporting psychologically distressed parents, and school based discrimination and racism as barriers to their educational progress. Qualitative results also afforded plausible explanations for the discrepancy between teacher-ratings with parent- and adolescent self-ratings of the mental health. 

Conclusion: Analysis of both quantitative and qualitative findings provides insight into the interconnection between educational and schooling experiences of young refugees and their mental health. Avenues for further research include developing and evaluating more holistic models of education to address the interrelated education and mental health needs of refugee youth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-354
Number of pages10
JournalAustralian Psychologist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • education
  • mental health
  • refugee
  • youth


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