Refugees looking for a safe haven away from their chaotic origins are at a greater risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses than those who migrate due to social and economic reasons, a new study has found.
Psychotic disorders may result in a lifetime of health and social challenges, ultimately leading to a reduced rate of life expectancy of 10-25 years.
To identify if refugees have higher risks of developing schizophrenia and other non-affective psychotic illnesses compared to non-refugee migrants, scientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and University College London in Britain embarked on a study among these populations in similar origins and in Swedish-born people.
Investigating The Link
The study involved data of 1,347,790 people from the Swedish national register. They were either born in Sweden with two natural citizen parents, refugees or non-refugee migrants. These people came from the Middle East and north Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe and Russia, which are the locations where most number of refugees to the country came from.
The researchers looked into the data of people born after Jan. 1, 1984 and followed them up either from their 14th birthday or from their arrival in Sweden. They also monitored these subjects until they received a non-affective psychotic disorder diagnosis, emigration or death.
As per analysis, 3,704 people had non-affective psychotic disorder during 8.9 million person years follow-up.
After adjusting for confounders, the authors discovered that refugees have a higher risk of psychosis than Swedish-born people. The said high risk is more common in men and were noted in all refugees except from those who came from sub-Saharan Africa as both refugee and non-refugee migrants from this region have the same high results.
“Refugees face an increased risk of schizophrenia and other non-affective psychotic disorders compared with non-refugee migrants from similar regions of origin and the native-born Swedish population,” the authors say.
Implications And Recommendations
The study implies that the health sector of nations receiving refugees must prepare well for the arrival of its new residents in terms providing adequate mental and physical wellness. The health department must be aware that there is a difference between the extent of needs that refugees and non-refugee migrants have when they relocate.
An accompanying editorial written by Helen Bamber Foundation medical director Cornelius Katona states that a solid mental health response to this situation should rely on a combination of clinical alertness, awareness of vulnerability factors and most importantly, the will to reduce the detrimental impacts of post-migration experiences.