Psychological research on the experiences of asylum seeking people has
been predominantly focused on trauma and psychopathology, locating the
distress within the individual. Exploring contextual factors may be a more
appropriate approach to understanding distress generally, but particularly for
asylum seeking people struggling with distinctive social-political issues.
Theory and research on social capital has provided one particular
understanding of the way in which social factors, such as social networks and
features of social engagement, can influence psychological health and wellbeing.
The aims of this study were to explore the social contexts of asylum
seeking people, and more specifically social capital, in relation to
psychological health. Nine Eritrean asylum seeking people were interviewed
on their lived experience in the UK; seven of these interviews were carried out
with an interpreter. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used in the
exploration of shared themes in the accounts of participants.
Six superordinate themes were outlined in the analyses. The themes
encompass the impact of overarching social and legal restrictions on power in
day-to-day lives and social experiences of the participants. Their lived
experience in the UK is influenced by various social disadvantages that
'asylum-seeker' status places them in, factors related to positive well-being,
known to function as buffers against psychological stress, such as a lack of
access to marital and family relationships, lack of employment and financial
resources for their social welfare, and other civic freedoms and rights.
However their capacity to develop and access collective resources, such as
social capital, and personal resources, including faith and spirituality, were
also apparent from this study. Psychological approaches to support and
intervention that are able to integrate social, material and political factors, are
highlighted. Reflecting on the role of psychologists in relation to human rights
abuses and social injustice is also suggested.
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