Mental health problems in undocumented and documented migrants: a survey study

Fam Pract. 2014 Oct;31(5):571-7. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmu038. Epub 2014 Jul 29.


Background: Undocumented migrants (UM) frequently report mental health problems. It is unknown to what extent these migrants seek help for these problems in general practice and how these issues are explored, discussed, registered and treated by GPs.

Objective: To gain insight in the registration and treatment of mental health problems in general practice of UM compared to documented migrants (DM).

Methods: A survey study of general practice patient records of UM and DM in nine general practices in the Netherlands. Consultation rates, registration of mental health problems, prescription of psychotropic medication and referrals to mental health care institutions of UM and DM patients were compared.

Results: A total of 541 migrants were included (325 UM and 216 DM). UM consulted a GP significantly less than DM (3.1 versus 4.9 times per year). Only 20.6% of the UM had at least one mental health problem diagnosis registered compared to 44.0% of the DM. In both groups, ~10% mentioned at least one main mental health complaint during the consultation that was not coded in the record. No significant differences were found in the prescription of psychotropic medication between the two groups. UM were referred less to mental health care institutions but more often to psychiatrists than to psychologists.

Conclusion: UM had less consultations with their GP, and in these consultations, less mental health problems were registered. UM were referred less to psychologists but more often to psychiatrists. GPs are advised to explore and register mental health problems more actively in UM.

Keywords: General practice; health records; illegal migrants; mental health; migrants and transients; personal survey..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Data Collection
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • General Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Psychiatry / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychology / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Transients and Migrants / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology*
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult


  • Psychotropic Drugs