Adult Mental Health

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees identifies 18.1 million refugees and 49 million internally displaced persons in the world as of late 2015.1 Since 2014, these figures increased by 5.1 and 11 million respectively due to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. In this section of the RHTAC website, you can find discussion of topics (underlined below) about adult refugee mental health, beginning with the traumatic experiences of refugees. This topic describes the range and types of traumatic experiences refugees endure, with special emphasis on war-related events, torture, and resettlement stress. Due in large part to this experienced trauma, a large minority of refugees experience symptoms of distress, difficulties with adjustment, and a smaller minority suffer psychiatric disorders. Distress takes form in symptoms that all people experience as well as in culturally-specific distress. Part of the adjustment challenge for refugees are inherent in the underlying dynamic process of being a refugee, which is the backdrop for the events that have occurred, the symptoms that are present, and the treatment that is now needed.

Nevertheless, in spite of the high number of stressful experiences that refugees endure, most are resilient and do not suffer from psychiatric disorders. A large minority will, however, need help for distress. It is thus very important to first conduct screening for distress and mental health conditions in a non-stigmatizing way as part of the routine domestic medical examinations. Because a significant number of refugees will develop psychological distress or psychiatric disorders in the year after their arrival to a new country, it is recommended that they are also provided with screening at their civil surgeon examination. A screening that is positive for distress and/or a mental health condition should prompt a more comprehensive assessment for trauma and/or mental health. Refugees with a mental health condition should be referred to available treatments and services.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees. UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update. Accessed September 23, 2015.