The ‘good life’, personal appearance, and mental health of Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Uganda

Robinson, J. , Chiumento, A., Kasujja, R., Rutayisire, T. and White, R. (2022) The ‘good life’, personal appearance, and mental health of Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Uganda. Social Science and Medicine, 293, 114641. (doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114641) (PMID:34922041)

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Rationale: Research into mental health and wellbeing recognises the role of positive mental health to enable people to lead healthy and emotionally fulfilling lives. Mental health difficulties continue to be associated with high levels of disability worldwide, and refugees fleeing conflict are known to suffer from poor mental health for years after their forced migration. Method: Informed by Sen's Capability Approach and as part of a wider research project, we used semi-structured interviews to engage with 60 men and women in two refugee communities in Uganda and Rwanda to explore their aspirations and what a ‘good life’ meant to them. Findings: While aspects of what constituted a good life were gendered, both men and women struggled to achieve their aspirations within their communities. Following the basic needs of food and shelter, the complex needs of being dressed well and being clean were consistently associated with be able to achieve a ‘good life’ by women and men across age groups. Looking good and being clean were highly valued and associated with gaining the respect of others, achieving good relationships with neighbours, and avoiding conflict. Participants identified personal appearance and related social status as critical precursors to their successful engagement with other gendered dimensions of social and economic life in their communities, such as finding employment and being well regarded in their religious community. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that without the means to present a good appearance, people living in refugee communities may experience feelings of shame and isolation and are unable to gain self-respect and the respect of others needed to achieve the positive mental and physical health they associate with leading ‘a good life’.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This project was funded by the Economic & Social Research Council as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (ES/S000976/1).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:White, Dr Ross and Robinson, Professor Jude
Authors: Robinson, J., Chiumento, A., Kasujja, R., Rutayisire, T., and White, R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > General Practice and Primary Care
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Journal Name:Social Science and Medicine
ISSN (Online):0277-9536
Published Online:10 December 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Ltd.
First Published:First published in Social Science and Medicine 293: 114641
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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