Discrimination, mental problems and social adaptation in young refugees

Eur J Public Health. 2008 Apr;18(2):156-61. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckm073. Epub 2007 Jul 12.


Background: Mental problems have been hypothesized to impede social adaptation and vice versa, and discrimination is assumed to interact with both. The available empirical documentation is, however, limited. The objective of this study is to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of associations and pathways between discrimination, mental problems and social adaptation in young refugees.

Methods: Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) was used for the analysis of cross-sectional data from interviews with 131 young Middle Eastern refugees residing in Denmark.

Results: Participants reported a mean of 1.8 experiences of discrimination, and the prevalence of five indicators of positive social adaptation was 47-92%. Discrimination, mental problems and social adaptation were strongly mutually associated, without gender difference. Discrimination predicted internalizing behaviour. Improved social adaptation correlated negatively with discrimination and with externalizing and internalizing behaviour.

Conclusion: Perceived discrimination among young refugees from the Middle East is associated with mental problems and social adaptation. Discrimination seems to provoke internalizing but not externalizing behaviour. The direction of other pathways is ambiguous, suggesting a certain amount of recursive interaction between mental health, discrimination and social adaptation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Denmark
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle East / ethnology
  • Prejudice*
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Social Adjustment