Stress, Mental Health, and Self-Care among Refugee Teachers in Malaysia

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Gosnell, Nicole
O'Neal, Colleen
The mental health of post-conflict refugee teachers is understudied, yet critically important given the current refugee crisis which has displaced more than 70 million people (UNHCR, 2019). Teachers in hidden refugee schools are often refugees themselves, have little teacher education, and are faced with overwhelming classroom demands and other unique stressors. This study utilizes a mixed method design to examine stress, mental health (i.e., depression, and anxiety), and self-care among teachers in hidden refugee schools in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Quantitative data are archival, collected in Malaysia in 2013. Quantitative study participants included 97 primarily Burmese refugee teachers and 26 non-refugee teachers living in Malaysia. Quantitative measures included (a) Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales (DASS); (b) a self-care strategies questionnaire, and (c) a demographic questionnaire. Quantitative results suggest that refugee teachers have significantly higher rates of mental health and stress, but lower rates of self-care as compared to their non-refugee peer teachers. In addition, higher rates of self-care are associated with lower rates of mental health symptoms and stress rates; the association is moderated by age. Qualitative data were collected in June 2018 via individual interviews with eleven Burmese refugee teachers working in Malaysia. Qualitative results shed light on the unique definitions and experiences of stress, mental health, and self-care among refugee teachers in the context of macrolevel factors. Overall, this dissertation found that macrolevel factors unique to being a refugee impact refugees’ rates, experiences, and definitions of microlevel mental health symptoms, stress, and self-care.