The association between mental health symptoms and mobility limitation among Russian, Somali and Kurdish migrants: a population based study

BMC Public Health. 2015 Mar 20;15:275. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-1629-1.


Background: Research has demonstrated a bidirectional relationship between physical function and depression, but studies on their association in migrant populations are scarce. We examined the association between mental health symptoms and mobility limitation in Russian, Somali and Kurdish migrants in Finland.

Methods: We used data from the Finnish Migrant Health and Wellbeing Study (Maamu). The participants comprised 1357 persons of Russian, Somali or Kurdish origin aged 18-64 years. Mobility limitation included self-reported difficulties in walking 500 m or stair climbing. Depressive and anxiety symptoms were measured using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL-25) and symptoms of somatization using the somatization subscale of the Symptom Checklist-90 Revised (SCL-90-R). A comparison group of the general Finnish population was selected from the Health 2011 study.

Results: Anxiety symptoms were positively associated with mobility limitation in women (Russians odds ratio [OR] 2.98; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.28-6.94, Somalis OR 6.41; 95% CI 2.02-20.29 and Kurds OR 2.67; 95% CI 1.41-5.04), after adjustment for socio-demographic factors, obesity and chronic diseases. Also somatization increased the odds for mobility limitation in women (Russians OR 4.29; 95% CI 1.76-10.44, Somalis OR 18.83; 95% CI 6.15-57.61 and Kurds OR 3.53; 95% CI 1.91-6.52). Depressive symptoms were associated with mobility limitation in Russian and Kurdish women (Russians OR 3.03; 95% CI 1.27-7.19 and Kurds OR 2.64; 95% CI 1.39-4.99). Anxiety symptoms and somatization were associated with mobility limitation in Kurdish men when adjusted for socio-demographic factors, but not after adjusting for obesity and chronic diseases. Finnish women had similar associations as the migrant women, but Finnish men and Kurdish men showed varying associations.

Conclusions: Mental health symptoms are significantly associated with mobility limitation both in the studied migrant populations and in the general Finnish population. The joint nature of mental health symptoms and mobility limitation should be recognized by health professionals, also when working with migrants. This association should be addressed when developing health services and health promotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Checklist
  • Chronic Disease / ethnology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / ethnology
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Iraq / ethnology
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobility Limitation*
  • Russia / ethnology
  • Somalia / ethnology
  • Somatoform Disorders / ethnology
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology*
  • Young Adult