Mental Health of Refugees and Torture Survivors: A Critical Review of Prevalence, Predictors, and Integrated Care

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Jun 28;16(13):2309. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16132309.


Civilian war trauma and torture rank among the most traumatic life experiences; exposure to such experiences is pervasive in nations experiencing both internal and external conflict. This has led to a high volume of refugees resettling throughout the world with mental health needs that primary care physicians may not be screening for and prepared to effectively address. In this article, we review the literature on demographics, predictors, mental health outcomes of torture, and integrated care for the mental health needs of refugees. We searched PubMed and PSYCINFO databases for original research articles on refugees and mental health published in the English language between 2010 and present. Nine percent of 720 adults in conflict areas in Nepal, with predominance of literate married males, met the threshold for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 27.5% for depression, and 22.9% for anxiety. While, PTSD rate has been documented as high as 88.3% among torture survivors from Middle East (ME), Central Africa (CA), South Asia (SA), Southeast Europe (SE). Depression was recorded as high as 94.7% among 131 African torture survivors and anxiety as high as 91% among 55 South African torture survivors. Torture severity, post-migration difficulties, and wait time to receive clinical services were significantly associated with higher rate of mental health symptoms. Mental health screening is not a standard component of initial physical exams for refugees, yet these individuals have had high trauma exposure that should inform clinical care. Integrated care models are lacking but would greatly benefit this community to prevent progression to greater severity of mental health symptoms.

Keywords: PTSD; integrated care; refugees; torture; trauma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asia
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / organization & administration*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Middle East
  • Nepal / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Torture / psychology*
  • Young Adult