Home / Mental health awareness week 2019: The prevalence in refugees and asylum seekers

Mental health awareness week 2019: The prevalence in refugees and asylum seekers

In light of Mental Health Awareness week this year, by writing this post I seek to not just raise awareness on mental health issues and what sort of help is available to those with mental health issues, but also to outline the extent of such issues, and to examine the unequal distribution of mental health support amongst refugees and asylum seekers. The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that 35-50% of people with mental health problems in developed countries, and 76-85% in developing countries, do not receive any treatment. With poor mental health statistics on the rise, it is especially questionable as to why support isn’t on the rise too.

Common mental health problems include depression, generalised anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. While not going into specifics for the symptoms of each mental health disorder that there is, I feel that the list of symptoms below should be known, and for those that have any of these symptoms, may benefit from speaking to friends or family, or even seek advice from a health professional.

  • Feeling low/sad
  • Difficulty to concentrate
  • Extreme/unexplained mood changes
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Problems with sleep
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

These are few of many symptoms that can indicate to a mental health illness, and even if you yourself do not experience any of these symptoms, it is so important to look out for your friends and family. Should you notice these symptoms in them, be the strength that they are absent of.

So why are refugees and asylum seekers at a greater risk of developing mental health problems?

The process of one leaving their country, where they grew up and having to suddenly adapt to being in another country with new culture and rules, can be very stressful for some, if not for all. Because of the stress one goes through when moving to such a different environment, it stands that asylum seekers and refugees are 5x more likely to develop a mental health need than the rest of our population. But what exactly is it about the process of migrating that increases the chances of developing a mental health problem? We can understand this question by looking at the different stages of migration, predeparture, travel and transit, arrival and then integration.

When a migrant is in the stage of predeparture, they are exposed to the sites and effects of war, and they can suffer from economic hardship. When one is in the travel and transit stage, they are at the risk of life-threatening conditions. Upon a migrant’s arrival they may also experience physical harm, which itself will have a direct impact to one’s mental health. Finally, upon the migrant’s integration into their new home and society, they may continue to live in poor conditions, face difficulty in their process of acculturation, issues in achieving a legal citizenship- with the possibility of facing return, and social isolation which arises form difficulty integrating into society.

A report written by the World Health Organisation evaluated different integration options that are likely to make a positive difference to the prevalence and burden of mental disorders in refugees. One area intervention is to promote social integration. Social isolation and unemployment hold a strong link with a higher prevalence of mental disorders in refugees and migrants. To promote social integration can mean to guarantee refugees and migrants with basic needs, such as food security and accommodation. Providing support in their education can also have a positive impact on reducing social isolation, which will also help to secure future employment, which will in turn improve their quality of life.

Another area of intervention is to overcome barriers to access to mental health care. By migrants encountering barriers to accessing mental health care can not only present an issue in the sense that they may never receive the treatment that they need, but also it can delay how soon one accesses care, even in urgent situations. To tackle such a barrier, it can help to provide information on what migrants are entitled to. The World Health Organisation report also outlines that outreach services can help bridge migrants into mainstream services.

I believe that there is so much more work to be done to not only reduce the risk of mental health problems, but also to help people overcome theirs. The ACAA offers a wide range of services which are of benefit to mental health. This includes our ESOL classes, which help ease integration into British society, and help better futures which will prevent poor mental health. Other services also include a community advice clinic, whereby advice and emotional support is offered, and also, we have a women’s tea corner, where we offer a place for isolated women.

“If the old saying is true that it takes a village to raise a child, then it will take a nation to aid these refugees in recovery. This is not a small issue” – ♥

Share article