Psychosocial support interventions in the context of forced displacement: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Elsevier, Journal of Migration and Health, Volume 7, 2023
Amanda J. Nguyen, Molly E. Lasater, Catherine Lee, Indika V. Mallawaarachchi, Kate Joshua, Lucy Bassett, Kirsten Gelsdorf

Forced displacement is associated with elevated risk for poor psychosocial wellbeing, yet there remains a lack of clarity around the effectiveness of commonly implemented psychosocial support interventions focused on preventing disorder and promoting wellbeing. This study aimed to synthesize the literature on evaluations of psychosocial support interventions for populations affected by forced displacement.

We searched for peer reviewed and gray literature in seven databases (PubMed, Embase, Global Health, CINAHL, SocIndex, PsychInfo, PILOTS), fifteen organizational websites, and via solicitation through multiple networks. Various study designs were included, with the criteria that they report an evaluation of a psychosocial intervention delivered to populations affected by forced displacement, and included quantitative or qualitative data on psychosocial outcomes. Records were screened independently by two reviewers at both title/abstract and full-text review; data was double-extracted and study quality assessed, with discrepancies resolved by consensus. Meta-analyses for seven outcomes were conducted on a subset of 33 studies.

We identified 162 reports. Over half (55%) used a single-group study design, with fewer using non-random (19%) or randomized (21%) comparisons. Study designs incorporating comparison conditions were less likely to report positive findings than single-group studies. In the meta-analyses, a moderately strong overall effect was found for psychosocial wellbeing (ES: -0.534, 95% CI: [-0.870, -0.197], p=.005); small effects on both internalizing (ES: -0.152, 95% CI: [-0.310, 0.005], p= .057) and externalizing (ES: -0.249, 95% CI: [-0.515, 0.016], p=.064) problems were promising but not conclusive. Subgroup analysis suggested differential impacts on internalizing problems for adults (improvement; ES: -0.289, 95% CI: [-0.435, -0.143], p=.001) and children (worsening; ES: 0.129, 95% CI: [.054, 0.204], p=.002). Other subgroup analyses showed little meaningful variation by context, population, or intervention characteristics.

Pragmatic, field-driven program evaluations are dominated by single-group designs with significant risk of bias. Findings from controlled studies are promising but highlight a need for more rigorous research to support causal inference, align outcomes with theories of change, improve measurement of more positive or wellbeing-focused outcomes, examine subgroup differences, and report potentially negative impacts.