A federal report is recommending more mental health services for refugees from Bhutan, who have a higher than average rate of suicide.
The annual suicide rate among Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States was calculated by investigators of the recent federal report as 21.5 per 100,000; the annual suicide rate for U.S. residents is 12.4 per 100,000
Nearly 3,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in Arizona since 2008, according to state data. Tucson is one of the communities where a large concentration of the Bhutanese refugees resettled.
Bhutanese of Nepali origin, mainly Hindu, began fleeing Bhutan in the 1990s due to persecution and violence. Many of them spent years living in refugee camps in Nepal before moving to the United States and other countries.
During the period of February 2009 to February 2012, the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 16 suicides among the approximately 57,000 Bhutanese refugees who resettled in the United States since 2008. Four additional suicides by Bhutanese refugees have been documented since February 2012, the report says.
In collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of randomly selected Bhutanese refugees in four U.S. states with large populations of resettled refugees to identify risk factors that might be associated with ideas of suicide. The four states were Arizona, Georgia, New York, and Texas.
The survey findings suggest that Bhutanese refugees who have resettled in the U.S. could have a high burden of undiagnosed mental illness.
The study says mental-health services should be considered one of the priorities in the service package for refugees arriving in the United States.
Programs to address challenges such as job and language training should consider adding social-support and mental-health components, the report says. One of the factors contributing to the suicides was an inability to find work, the data shows.
The report also says refugee communities and service providers might benefit from additional suicide-awareness training to identify those at highest risk and greatest need for early intervention.