Paternal predictors of the mental health of children of Vietnamese refugees

Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2011 Jan 10;5:2. doi: 10.1186/1753-2000-5-2.


Background: Intergenerational transmission of trauma as a determinant of mental health has been studied in the offspring of Holocaust survivors and combat veterans, and in refugee families. Mainly negative effects on the children are reported, while a few studies also describe resilience and a possible positive transformation process. A longitudinal prospective cohort study of Vietnamese refugees arriving in Norway in 1982 reports a 23 years follow-up, including spouses and children born in Norway, to study the long-term effects of trauma, flight, and exile on the offspring of the refugees.

Objectives of the study: 1. To study the association between the psychological distress of Vietnamese refugee parents and their children after 23 years resettlement.2. To analyse paternal predictors for their children's mental health.

Methods: Information from one or both parents at arrival in 1982 (T1), at follow-up in 1985 (T2), and 23 years after arrival (T3) was included. The mental health was assessed by the Global Severity Index (GSI) of the self-report Symptom Check List-90-R (SCL-90-R) for parents (n = 88) and older children (age 19-23 yrs, n = 12), while children aged 4-18 (n = 94) were assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).

Results: Thirty percent of the families had one parent with a high psychological distress score ("probable caseness" for a mental disorder), while only 4% of the children aged 10 - 23 years were considered as probable cases. In spite of this, there was an association between probable caseness in children and in fathers at T3. A significant negative paternal predictor for the children's mental health at T3 was the father's PTSD at arrival in Norway, while a positive predictor was the father's participation in a Norwegian network three years after arrival.

Conclusions: Children of refugees cannot be globally considered at risk for mental health problems. However, the preceding PTSD in their fathers may constitute a specific risk for them.