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Study delves into the mental health of asylum seekers

29 January 20180 comments

Refugees suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues get worse because of the living conditions many endure after they flee, new research has found.

The research by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) doctors working with asylum seekers in Italy found the most common mental health conditions were post-traumatic stress disorder (31 per cent) and depression (20 per cent).

The researchers found potentially traumatic events were experienced frequently in the home country (in 60 per cent of cases) and during migration (in 89 per cent of cases).

Being in a combat situation or at risk of death, having witnessed violence or death and having been in detention were the main traumas and a lack of activities, worries about home, loneliness and fear of being sent home were the main difficulties after fleeing, the study found.

It found higher exposure to potentially traumatic experiences and post-migration stress were the most common factors associated with higher rates of mental health disorders.

The study, based on interviews with 385 asylum seekers, said mental health problems could be broadly categorised in three areas: exacerbation of pre-existing mental health disorders; new problems caused by conflict, displacement and multiple losses; and, issues related to adaptation to post-emergency life.

“There are also substantial differences between refugees and asylum seekers as the former have obtained a formal recognition of international protection in their refugee status; whereas the latter don’t have their status recognised yet and they might never do so,” the researchers said.

“Asylum seekers carry a more recent history of potentially traumatic experiences and have not taken part into a social net in the receiving country, thus, face a greater uncertainly about their future,” they said.

“Mental health conditions, potentially traumatic events and post-migratory living difficulties are commonly experienced by recently-arrived asylum seekers,” the study said.

It recommended that mental health and psychosocial support and improved living circumstances should be integrated into … medical and social services provided by authorities in order to fulfil their humanitarian responsibility and reduce the burden of assimilation on receiving countries.

Read the full report here



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist