Mental disorders in young refugees and asylum seekers in European Countries

In the frame of the EU-VET CARE project, several focus groups involving key stakeholders in the provision of care to migrant/refugee children (physicians, psychologists, representatives of Ngos, and cultural mediators) have been realized. The aim of those focus groups was to collect the opinions and perceptions of these professionals, to identify their needs. The ultimate scope is the creation of a training package that fit their educational needs. All the participants of the focus group agreed on the difficulty of taking and adequate and continuous charge of the psychological traumas faced by minor migrants. “They carry with them the burden of a past of missed childhood and adolescence” stated a psychologist. 

Up to a third of refugee and asylum-seeking minors could be affected by either a depression or anxiety disorder or by any other emotional or behavioural problem. Half of refugee and asylum-seeking minors could be affected by post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).  This are the main results reported by an article published on the peer-reviewed journal European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (first author Christina Kien from the Donau-Universit├Ąt, Krems). To assess the mental health status of refugee populations in Europe, Kien and coauthors conducted a systematic review of all relevant studies regarding mental health of minor migrants performed from January 1990 to October 2017.

Compared to the European population, migrant minors show a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders and mental health problems. Anyway, the prevalence of mental disorders in refugees and migrants shows considerable variation depending on the population studied and the methodology of assessment: the review highlights a huge heterogeneity of individual studies. Most studies related to minors emigrating from countries with wars, who experience a high prevalence of PTSD (median: 35.5%, range 19.0–52.7%). In addition, unaccompanied minors are more susceptible to PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders than accompanied minors.

Risk factors for mental health problems may be experienced during all phases of the migratory process and in settling in the host country. Minor migrants face themselves with extremely heavy emotive challenges. In their Country or during the migration they might have experienced war and might have been exposed to violence or the death of relatives and friends. Even the arrival in the host Country in Europe is a mental stressor, due to the long-lasting asylum procedures with uncertain outcomes and adaptation processes to the new setting.


Want to know more?
Kien C et al. Prevalence of mental disorders in young refugees and asylum seekers in European Countries: a systematic review. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2019.