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Refugees and Asylum-seekers are among the most vulnerable members of society having poorer mental health than the general population.

Published: 25 July 2023

A review of international evidence and country experiences has found that asylum-seekers, refugees, and other displaced peoples have poorer mental health outcomes than those of the general population.

The International Horizon Scanning and Learning Report 45: Mental Health and Well-being of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers, also provided insights from Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands and Sweden on innovative and effective approaches to address the mental health and well-being of displaced people.  

Many of the mental health and wellbeing challenges identified relate to peoples’ experiences both before and after leaving their home countries. Often, they experience significant personal loss, physical hardships and other stress situations as a result of their displacement. They are often faced with poor living, housing and working conditions. Additional stresses include lack of information, uncertainty about immigration status, potential local hostility, changing government policies, and undignified and protracted detention. Rates of disorders related to extreme stress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are higher in refugees and displaced people than in the general population. They can also suffer from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). 

Asylum-seekers and refugees make a positive contribution to society which can be further enhanced by making sure they are in good physical and mental health by providing access to basic services, safety and social support. 

Mariana Dyakova, Consultant in Public Health at Public Health Wales said: 

“Improving the well-being of these populations requires accessible healthcare, social support, and addressing the social determinants of health. This support can take a variety of forms from addressing practical issues, such as language barriers and difficulties accessing services, to mitigating cultural and social issues by providing support to help integrate into local communities or join existing networks of people with similar lived experiences.  

“Building strategic partnerships across Health, Social and other public services, and including provisions in national strategies and policies, is essential to address the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers.”  

In 2019, Welsh Government developed the ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ plan which outlines the work being undertaken across Wales to ensure inequalities experienced by asylum-seekers and refugees are reduced; and to improve access to opportunities for education, employment, connecting and integrating with local communities and making friends.  

The International Horizon Scanning and Learning Reports were commissioned as part of our response to COVID-19 but have since been expanded to cover priority public health topics, including health improvement and promotion and health protection. 

International Horizon Scanning and Learning Report: Mental Health and Well-being of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers provides a high-level summary of learning from real life experiences from selected countries, and from a variety of scientific and grey literature.