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Increased mental health problems in refugee patients

21 March 2016

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Refugees face a higher risk of psychotic illness, including schizophrenia, compared with non-refugee migrants from the areas, according to a new study.

Although refugees caught up in the humanitarian crisis are known to be at an increased risk of mental health problems, including post traumatic stress disorder and common mental disorders, compared with non-refugees migrants, little is known about their psychosis risk.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and University College London (UCL) looked at the risk of schizophrenia and other non-affective disorders among refuges compared with the risk in non-refugee migrants and the general population in Sweden.

They looked at national register data for more than 1.3 million people in Sweden, tracking diagnoses of non-affective psychotic disorders in the population.

They identified 3,704 cases and said refugees were more likely to be diagnosed with non-affective psychotic disorders, with cases more prevalent in men than in women.

The team said: “Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that increased risk of non-affective psychotic disorders among immigrants is due to a higher frequency of exposure to social adversity before migration, including the effects of war, violence or persecution.”

The authors added: “Our findings support the possibility that exposure to psychosocial adversity increases the risk of psychosis.”

The research, which is published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), highlighted the necessity of taking the early signs and symptoms of psychosis into account in refugee populations as part of the clinical mental health responses to the current humanitarian crises in Europe, the Middle East, north Africa and central Asia.

Cornelius Katona medical director of the human rights organisation the Helen Bamber Foundation, which supports victims of torture and trafficking said a “robust mental health response to the refugee crisis must lie in a combination of clinical vigilance, recognition of vulnerability factors, and above all, a determination to minimise the aggravating effects of post-migration experiences”.

The research can be found here.