Social Support and Distress among Q’eqchi’ Refugee Women in Maya Tecún, Mexico


This article addresses issues of vulnerability and distress through an analysis of the relationship between social support networks and traumatic stress in a Q’eqchi’ refugee community in southern Mexico. The sociopolitical violence, forced displacement, and encampment of Guatemalan Mayan populations resulted in the breakdown and dispersal of kin and community groups, leaving many Q’eqchi’ women with weakened social support networks. Research involving testimonial interviews and traumatic stress and social support questionnaires revealed that Q’eqchi’ refugee women with weak natal kin social support networks reported greater feelings of distress and symptoms of traumatic stress than did women with strong networks. In particular, a condition identified as muchkej emerged as one of the most significant symptoms reported by women with weak natal kin support networks. I critically consider muchkej as an idiom of distress and argue that aid organizations should consider the relationship between social support and traumatic stress, as expressed through such idioms, when attempting to identify vulnerable members of a refugee population.