Depressive symptoms among immigrants and ethnic minorities: a population based study in 23 European countries

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2012 Jan;47(1):97-109. doi: 10.1007/s00127-010-0321-0. Epub 2010 Nov 26.


Purpose: European studies about ethnic inequalities in depressive symptoms are scarce, show inconclusive results and are complicated by the discussion of what constitute (im)migrant and ethnic minority groups. Moreover, comparisons across countries are hampered by a lack of comparable measures of depressive symptoms. This study aims to assess the prevalence and determinants of depressive symptoms among immigrants, ethnic minorities and natives in 23 European countries.

Methods: Multilevel analyses are performed using data from the third wave of the European Social Survey (ESS-3). This dataset comprises information about 36,970 respondents, aged 21 years or older, of whom 13.3% immigrants and 6.2% ethnic minorities. Depressive symptoms were assessed with an 8-item version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression scale. Main determinants are immigrant status, socio-economic conditions and the experience of ethnic discrimination in the host country.

Results: The results show that immigrants and ethnic minorities do experience more depressive symptoms than natives in an essential part of the countries. Moreover, socio-economic conditions and the experience of ethnic discrimination are important risk factors. Immigrant status seems irrelevant, once the other risk factors are accounted for. Finally, immigrant and ethnic minority groups do not consist of the same individuals and therefore have different prevalence rates of depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: The prevalence rates of depressive symptoms are higher for immigrant and ethnic minority groups in a substantial part of the European countries. A clear definition is indispensable for developing policies that address the right-targeted population.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Depression / ethnology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups / psychology*
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Prejudice*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult