Lessons Learned From Working With Displaced Youth

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Presented by Wahab Yousafzai, MBBS, FCPS, Shifa International Hospital Islamabad.

In this talk on displaced populations, Yousafzai discusses various aspects of human displacement, including social and emotional consequences and possible interventions. Yousafzai has worked with displaced persons in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and shares his experiences.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • The challenges faced by displaced persons
  • Why displaced youth are especially vulnerable to mental health issues
  • How clinicians can help refugees and displaced persons

By the end of 2021, at least 89.3 million people around the world had been displaced. Of these, 53.2 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs), 27.1 million are refugees, and 4.6 million are asylum seekers. Forty one percent of all displaced people are children.

Yousafzai outlines the challenges faced by displaced persons. He also discusses issues within the provider network, which include a scarcity of mental health professionals and a lack of meaningful research initiatives.

He points out that almost half of the population of Afghanistan is experiencing psychological distress. Pakistan hosts approximately 1.6 million Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban’s most recent takeover of the country.

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Pakistan also faces a current crisis. One third of the country is flooded. “This has created a looming mental health crisis in the country,” according to Yousafzai. Thirty-nine million people in Pakistan are affected, two-thirds of whom are children.

“Displacement creates psychiatric impacts at every stage of a person’s journey,” Yousafzai says.

He explains that in the pre-migration stage, migrants may already have psychiatric issues due to the stresses that caused them to leave. The actual migration often triggers existing issues or creates new problems, while post-migration creates perpetuation issues and the challenges of integration.

“Displaced persons are under a lot of stress, and while they are trying to deal with that stress, they are often exploited by various factors, including sociopolitical and religious factors,” Yousafzai says.

He adds that displaced youth face a particular amount of stress. The population is vulnerable to political radicalization, as well as abuse and trafficking. Displaced youth face stigma and cultural barriers, and often present with suicidal behavior and complex psychological conditions.

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In working with displaced persons, clinicians should remain curious. They should understand trauma and how to respond to it.

“It is important for clinicians to recognize and appreciate the survival and resilience of displaced youth, and to honor the priorities and decisions of this population,” Yousafzai states.

According to Yousafzai, culturally sensitive psychological interventions are key.

Therapists who work with displaced persons should provide treatment based on respect for their patients’ religious and cultural values. They should create tailor-made approaches, involve displaced people in decision making, and integrate people into the community while keeping in mind their cultural values.


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Wahab Yousafzai, MBBS, FCPS, is a consultant psychiatrist at Shifa International Hospital Islamabad in Pakistan.