Symptoms, comorbidity, and clinical course of depression in immigrants: putting psychopathology in context

J Affect Disord. 2013 Nov;151(2):795-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.07.001. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


Background: Migration is considered a depression risk factor when associated with psychosocial adversity, but its impact on depression's clinical characteristics has not been specifically studied. We compared 85 migrants to 34 controls, examining depression's severity, symptomatology, comorbidity profile and clinical course.

Method: A MINI interview modified to assess course characteristics was used to assign DSM-IV axis I diagnoses; medical files were used for Somatoform Disorders. Severity was assessed with the Montgomery-Asberg scale. Wherever possible, we adjusted comparisons for age and gender using logistic and linear regressions.

Results: Depression in migrants was characterized by higher comorbidity (mostly somatoform and anxiety disorders), higher severity, and a non-recurrent, chronic course.

Limitations: Our sample comes from a single center, and should be replicated in other health care facilities and other countries. Somatoform disorder diagnoses were solely based on file-content.

Conclusion: Depression in migrants presented as a complex, chronic clinical picture. Most of our migrant patients experienced significant psychosocial adversity before and after migration: beyond cultural issues, our results suggest that psychosocial adversity impacts on the clinical expression of depression. Our study also suggests that migration associated with psychosocial adversity might play a specific etiological role, resulting in a distinct clinical picture, questioning the DSM-IV unitarian model of depression. The chronic course might indicate a resistance to standard therapeutic regimen and hints at the necessity of developing specific treatment strategies, adapted to the individual patients and their specific context.

Keywords: Adversity; Depression; Migration; Psychopathology; Transcultural psychiatry.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Disease Progression
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors