The horrors of war can leave lasting mark on an individual’s mind.
It’s no secret that asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution in their war-torn countries are at increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, but researchers now have a reason to believe the refugees who left their homes and jobs behind to save their lives experience higher rate of psychotic disorders.
A recent study, published in the medical journal BMJ Open, claims refugees are 3.6 times as likely to experience schizophrenia and other psychoses as native-born Swedes. They are also 66 percent more likely to develop certain mental disorders than those who migrated from the same regions for social or economic reasons.
“The dramatically increased risk among refugees shows that life events are a significant risk factor for schizophrenia and other psychoses,” said lead author Anna-Clara Hollander from Sweden's Karolinska Institute.
To come to this conclusion, the scientists from University College London and the Department of Public Health Sciences at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet analyzed population registration data of 1.3 million people in Sweden.
The research was divided into three categories — refugees, non-refugees migrants and people born to two Swedish parents after 1984. The results showed that asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa run the highest of developing schizophrenia while the rate was second higher for people from the Middle East. Moreover, the psychotic disorders were more pronounced among men.
“These differences cannot be explained by other, important alternative explanations like differences in age, sex, income or urban residency," said co-senior author James Kirkbride of the University College London.
Although the data on children and post-migratory factors, such as racism and discrimination, is limited, the study still manages to highlight “the need for specialist care and support” for the refugees.
“Consideration also needs to be given to the challenges that asylum seekers face during what is often a prolonged and distressing process,” explained Cornelius Katona, medical director at BMJ. “These factors may include institutional detention, inability to work (and resultant deskilling and loss of self-esteem), destitution, and difficulty in accessing health and social care.”
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More than 1 million asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa crossed into Europe last year seeking a safe haven, and the number is expected to grow this year.
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