Showcasing: Improving the mental wellbeing of Arabic speaking refugees


South Western Sydney

Lead agency

School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, in partnership with NSW Refugee Health Service

Living Well domain

  • Care for all

Program Overview

The Arabic Mental Health Promotion Program targets newly arrived Arabic speaking refugees who are attending Adult Migrant English Programs (AMEP) or other resettlement programs. The program seeks to improve mental health literacy of participants and focuses on improving awareness and understanding of the following key components through a three-hour interactive educational sessions delivered across four weeks to people attending resettlement programs. 

  • What is good mental health and wellbeing?
  • Signs, symptoms, causes and treatment of common mental health disorders amongst refugees (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks)
  • Self-help strategies to promote good mental health 
  • Orientation to mental health services in Australia.

The pilot program was delivered by bilingual health educators and mental health clinicians from South Western Sydney Local Health District between October 2018 and March 2019. The pilot program comprised of


As result of the large influx of refugees resettling in South Western Sydney, health services face an unprecedented challenge to meet the health and mental health needs of these new arrivals. 

For people fleeing conflict and persecution, levels of psychological distress are common even when people appear functionally well and engage in resettlement tasks such as attending English tuition. Strong evidence shows that refugees face challenges regarding knowledge about mental health conditions; including recognition, management, help-seeking and support services available1-4.

Further, there is evidence to suggest that resettled refugees are not accessing appropriate mental health care, especially considering their increased risk of developing mental health conditions5.

We have limited research on the development of mental health promotion programs for resettling refugees. More specifically, programs in Australia targeted at providing support and mental health information for refugee populations are almost non-existent.


This project is the direct result of research which has allowed a culturally appropriate curriculum to be developed into a mental health promotion program specifically tailored to Arabic speaking refugee populations in Australia. 

This innovative program is led by Associate Professor Slewa-Younan, Western Sydney University in partnership with NSW Refugee Health Service, who provided initial funding.


The program was delivered by bilingual health educators and mental health clinicians from South Western Sydney Local Health District.

Thirty-three people participated in the program held weekly over four weeks. The sessions were delivered in Arabic with power point slides, facilitated by bilingual health promotion officers and were designed to be interactive with group discussion. 


Participants completed a mental health literacy survey and K10 pre-intervention, post-intervention and at a three month follow up. The questionnaires were translated from English to Arabic to ensure clear understanding. The measures assessed change in mental health literacy, stigma and individual mental health status of the participants.

Participants experienced noticeable improvements following the program. Levels of psychological distress, measured by the K10, reduced significantly from almost 70% at pre-intervention, to just over 63% at post intervention and under 38% at follow up. Participants’ level of social distance reduced significantly, changing from almost 12 at pre-intervention, to just over 10 at post intervention and under 10 (9.79) at follow up. Recognition of mental health problems increased after the intervention by 10% to almost 65%, although this was not statistically significant. 

Participants gave positive feedback on the program: 68% said the program provided new information, over 74% said it was easy to understand and 91% said the information and exercises were useful.

S West Syd

Next Steps

Immediate next steps include broader implementation of the program in partnership with South Western Sydney Local Health District, Health Promotion Service, commencing 2020. The team are also seeking funding to undertake a larger fully powered randomised control trial.

1. Slewa-Younan S, Mond J, Bussion E, et al. Mental health literacy of resettled Iraqi refugees in Australia: Knowledge about posttraumatic stress disorder and beliefs about helpfulness of interventions. BMC psychiatry. 2014;14(1):320. doi: 10.1186/s12888-014-0320-x.

2. Slewa-Younan S, Mond JM, Bussion E, et al. Psychological trauma and help seeking behaviour amongst resettled Iraqi refugees in attending English tuition classes in Australia. International journal of mental health systems. 2015;9(1):5. doi: 10.1186/1752-4458-9-5.

3. Slewa-Younan S, Uribe Guajardo M, Heriseanu A, Hasan T. A systematic review of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression amongst Iraqi refugees located in western countries. J Immigrant Minority Health. 2015;17(4):1231-1239. doi: 10.1007/s10903-014-0046-3.

4. Slewa-Younan S, Guajardo MGU, Yaser A, et al. Causes of and risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder: The beliefs of Iraqi and Afghan refugees resettled in Australia. International journal of mental health systems. 2017;11(1):4. doi: 10.1186/s13033-016-0109-z.

5. Correa‐Velez I, Sundararajan V, Brown K, Gifford SM. Hospital utilisation among people born in refugee‐source countries: An analysis of hospital admissions, Victoria, 1998–2004. Med J Aust. 2007;186(11):577-580. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2007.tb01058.x.