Trauma, exile and mental health in young refugees

Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl. 2011;(440):1-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2011.01740.x.


Objective: To review evidence of trauma and exile-related mental health in young refugees from the Middle East.

Method: A review of four empirical studies: i) a qualitative study of 11 children from torture surviving families, ii) a cohort study of 311 3-15-year-old asylum-seeking children, iii) a qualitative study of 14 members of torture surviving families and iv) a follow-up study of 131 11-23-year-old refugees.

Results: The reactions of the children were not necessarily post-traumatic stress disorder specific. Seventy-seven per cent suffered from anxiety, sleep disturbance and/or depressed mood at arrival. Sleep disturbance (prevalence 34%) was primarily predicted by a family history of violence. At follow-up, 25.9% suffered from clinically relevant psychological symptoms. Traumatic experiences before arrival and stressful events in exile predicted internalizing behaviour, witnessing violence and frequent school changes in exile predicted externalizing behaviour. School participation, Danish friends, language proficiency and mother's education predicted less long-term psychological problems.

Conclusion: Psychological problems are frequent in refugee children, but the extents are reduced over time in exile. Traumatic experience before arrival is most important for the short-term reaction of the children while aspects of life in exile are important for the children's ability to recover from early traumatization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Middle East / ethnology
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Torture / psychology*
  • Young Adult