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Abstract

Resettled refugees living in Western countries frequently report high levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. This study sought to measure levels of physiological arousal in a group of resettled Iraqi refugees in Australia receiving psychological treatment. A continuous recording of electrocardiogram (ECG) data was used to examine baseline heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) in refugees (n = 25) and healthy age- and sex-matched controls (n = 23). Descriptively, PTSD (48%) was the most commonly noted disorder followed equally by major depressive episode (36%) and dysthymia (36%) in the refugees. Examination of the physiological data indicated that the refugee group had increased resting HR compared with healthy controls (78.84 vs. 60.08 beats per minute, p < .001). No significant differences were noted in the HRV data with age, gender, and years of education included in the model. This finding highlights the importance of examining levels of arousal in refugees presenting with mental health complaints to provide appropriate treatment strategies.