Understanding the relationship between social support and mental health of humanitarian migrants resettled in Australia

Hemavarni Doma, Thach Tran, Pilar Rioseco, Jane Fisher

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5 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Forced migration can lead to loss of social support and increased vulnerability to psychological distress of displaced individuals. The aims were to ascertain the associations of sociodemographic characteristics and social support received by resettled adult humanitarian migrants in Australia; determine the relationship between social support and mental health at different intervals following humanitarian migration; and examine the modification effects of gender, age and migration pathway on that relationship. METHODS: A secondary analysis was conducted of data generated in Waves One (three to six months after resettlement), Three (three years after resettlement) and Five (five years after resettlement) of the Building a New Life in Australia prospective cohort study. The association between sociodemographic characteristics and mental health were examined at each timepoint using a multivariate regression model. Exploratory factor analysis was used to develop a two-factor social support scale (emotional/instrumental and informational support) from a larger set of items collected in the BNLA. Psychological distress was measured by the Kessler-6 scale. Path analysis was used to analyse the relationships between social support and psychological distress among the three time points considering socio-demographic characteristics simultaneously. RESULTS: A total of 2264 participants were included in the analyses. Age, gender, birth region, migration pathway, education level and English proficiency were significantly associated with both social support types. Main source of income was only significantly associated with informational support. Remoteness area was only significantly associated with emotional/instrumental support. As emotional/instrumental support increased by one standard deviation (SD) at Wave One, psychological distress at Wave Three decreased by 0.34 score [95% CI (- 0.61; - 0.08)]. As informational support at Wave Three increased by one SD, psychological distress at Wave Five decreased by 0.35 score [95% CI (- 0.69; - 0.01)]. The relationships between social support and psychological distress varied between genders, age groups and migration pathways. CONCLUSION: Findings demonstrate the importance of emotional/instrumental support and informational support for the medium and long-term mental health of humanitarian migrants. This study also highlights the important of extending current social support provisions and tailoring programs to enhance support received by humanitarian migrant subgroups years after resettlement to improve mental health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1739
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2022


  • Asylum seekers
  • Humanitarian migrants
  • Mental health
  • Refugees
  • Resettlement
  • Social support

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