War Refugees at High Risk of Psychosis

Fleeing the homeland under harsh conditions can never be easy, but recent research published in the British Medical Journal has indicated that refugees escaping from persecution and violence in war-torn regions in the Middle East, such as Syria, have a higher likelihood of developing schizophrenia and other mental illnesses compared to those migrating due to economic or social circumstances. 

Seeking asylum is often a protracted and stressful process, compounded by factors such as the inability to work abroad legally, the loss of self-esteem, deterioration of skills, destitution, and a lack of access to health care.

With the scale of the current global humanitarian crisis soaring in the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, and Europe, government officials and healthcare personnel in receiving countries must be able to anticipate and prepare to address the mental health needs of these displaced people.

Having lived through shocking, terrifying, and dangerous events, asylum seekers are particularly prone to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental condition characterized by panic attacks, flashbacks, and emotional volatility. Local governments and health workers are ill-equipped to handle these unforseen (yet not especially surprising) mental health issues, leaving a huge gap in refugees' health services. 

Research teams from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University College London in Britain collaborated and studied data from 1.3 million people in Sweden, a country that has granted asylum to more refugees than any other developed country: 12 percent of the population in 2011 consisted of immigrants.

The results concluded that refugees had a nearly four times higher risk of suffering from mental health disorders and a 66 percent higher risk of developing schizophrenia, a clear indication that health officials in countries accepting asylum seekers need to be trained to recognize the early signs and symptoms of these conditions.

Human rights activists have commented on these study results, reiterating the compelling need to address the need for a mental health program in countries accepting refugees.

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