Tibetan refugees appear to be more prone to depression and anxiety as compared with their ethnic Tibetan counterparts born in exile communities in Northern India and Nepal, a new study has found.
Reported in the April 2008, on-line version of the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the study was conducted in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh at both the Upper Dharamsala and Bir campuses of the Tibetan Children's Villages (TCV).
TCV serves as the primary school system for ethnic Tibetans in exile in India and Nepal.
According to Raison, an assistant professor in Emory's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, "As political tensions within Tibet continue to erupt, it is estimated that approximately 2,500 Tibetan refugees per year cross the Himalayas into Nepal, seeking asylum there or in India."
"One-third of these refugees are children and ninety percent of those children are without parents. Not only have these children been victimized in an environment lacking in respect for human rights, but their escape from Tibet to India through the perilous Himalayas is full of risk and trauma," he added.
For the study, the researchers used the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL-25), a questionnaire widely used to measure depression and anxiety symptoms in refugee groups around the world.
This questionnaire was completed by 319 student volunteers in grades 9 through 12 and by older students in grades 7 and 8. The students also were asked to provide demographic information such as place of birth, age and availability of family support in India.
Among the study findings, students born in Tibet demonstrated significantly higher depression and anxiety scores than Tibetans born in exile in either India or Nepal.
Students who left Tibet at an older age or who had been in India for a shorter period of time had higher depression and anxiety scores, suggesting that experiences in Tibet may have promoted depression and anxiety, whereas time spent in India may have promoted an improvement of symptoms.
"It is very concerning that Tibetan refugees exhibited such significant depressive and anxiety symptoms," said Raison.
"Also worrisome is that we discovered even the ethnic Tibetans born in exile had relatively high depressive and anxiety symptoms," he added.
According to Raison, these findings highlight the cost of the ongoing human rights crisis within Tibet in human emotional suffering.
"This is especially true for people born in Tibet who risk the hardships of escape to freedom in India. But even Tibetans born and raised in exile appear to be paying an emotional price for the loss of their homeland," he said.