In the wake of the 2015-16 European migrant and refugee crisis, mental health has emerged as a critical issue—not only for the well-being of asylum seekers who may have experienced trauma, but for the outcomes of their protection claims and the integrity of the processing system itself.
The primary mental-health conditions affecting asylum seekers are PTSD, depression, and anxiety, while alcohol and drug addictions and somatoform disorders have also been reported.
Asylum seekers can experience trauma before, during, and after their journey to Europe. In addition to living through painful situations in their countries of origin, some face violence, detention, or even torture along the path to safety. When they arrive at their destinations, long periods spent waiting in overcrowded and often isolated reception facilities can add new stress to an already grueling experience, as can a lack of optimism about the future.
Asylum seekers reported experiencing trauma during multiple stages of the trip. At origin, the most commonly reported traumatic events by asylum seekers include combat situations, sexual assault, and having witnessed violence and death. During the journey, in debt and under the control of smugglers, many asylum seekers spend long periods in harsh conditions and may be subject to continuous threats, violence, and even torture. Persistent worries about the whereabouts and fates of their loved ones add further anguish.
A study by psychologist Martina Heeren and her coauthors in Switzerland found that trauma-related mental-health disorders are also strongly influenced by resident status: Asylum seekers were more likely to suffer from PTSD compared to those whose protection claims were recognized earlier and had been granted permanent residency. Similarly, the rate of depression among those awaiting an asylum decision was nearly twice that of recognized refugees.
[Read full Migration Policy Institute article]