Study finds high psychosis risk among Europe's refugee migrants

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LONDON (Reuters) - Refugees fleeing war, violence and persecution have a much higher risk of developing psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia than people who migrate for economic or social reasons, according to research published on Tuesday.

Researchers writing in the BMJ British medical journal said their findings suggest government healthcare officials in countries taking in refugees should plan to be able to help higher numbers of mental health patients.

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Humanitarian crises in Europe, the Middle East, north Africa, and central Asia mean there are currently more displaced people, asylum seekers and refugees worldwide than at any time since Word War Two.

Refugees have a raised risk of mental conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - which brings flashbacks and panic attacks and can render patients emotionally volatile - but until now little has been known about the risk of psychosis.

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Study finds high psychosis risk among Europe's refugee migrants
In this Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016 photo, a woman carries her young boy inside the Souda camp for refugees and migrants in front of the stone wall of the castle of Chios island , Greece . The 800-person camp placed in the dry moat of Chios townâs medieval castle began operating in early November 2015.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016 photo, an Afghan couple use a blanket to calm their baby inside the Souda camp in Chios island , Greece. Despite the bitter winter cold and rough seas, tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands continue to risk their lives to make the relatively short but dangerous journey from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, seeking a better future in Europe. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016 photo, Afghan migrants look on a smart phone inside the Souda camp as on the background is seen the stone wall of the castle of Chios island. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 photo, an Afghan man squats after his arrival , from Turkey to the shores of the Greek island of Chios, on an dinghy crammed with refugees and migrants.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 photo, an Afghan man with his daughter walks after they receive a wristband tags at Tabakika registration center, Chios island, Greece. The island now has a functioning system which aims to process new arrivals through registration as fast and as painlessly as possible. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 photo, refugees wait their turn at the Tabakika registration center, Chios island, Greece. Despite the bitter winter cold and rough seas, tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands continue to risk their lives to make the relatively short but dangerous journey from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, seeking a better future in Europe. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 photo, two Afghan young women wait to be registered in the Tabakika registration center Chios island , Greece. Despite the bitter winter cold and rough seas, tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands continue to risk their lives to make the relatively short but dangerous journey from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, seeking a better future in Europe. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, refugees and migrants who have arrived from Turkey at the shore of the deserted Greek island of Pasas wait for the Coast Guard to transport them to the nearby Oinousses island. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, newly arrived migrants and refugees use ropes to scramble up a hill from a tiny beach on the deserted Greek island of Pasas they were driven by a smuggler. The smuggler ignored the searchlight, the shouts and the warning shots fired by the Greek coast guard, deftly navigating his small white vessel the shore (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, an Afghan boy asks for help to climb a rock leading to the main road after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Chios. Despite the bitter winter cold and rough seas, tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands continue to risk their lives to make the relatively short but dangerous journey from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, seeking a better future in Europe. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
in this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, a Syrian man with one leg walks at the Greek deserted island of Pasas after he arrived with others from Turkey. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, a Syrian woman with her children takes a shelter in a iron box during a rainfall after they arrived from Turkey to the Greek deserted island of Pasas near Chios on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 . (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this early Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, Afghan refugees disembark from a dinghy after crossing a part of the Aegean sea from Turkish coast to the Greek island of Chios. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 photo, refugees and migrants warm up their selves above a makeshift fire after they arrived from Turkey to the Greek deserted island of Pasas near Chios. More than 850,000 people entered Greece by sea in 2015, according to the UNHCR. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
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So a team from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet and Britain's University College London used national register data to look at more than 1.3 million people in Sweden, and tracked diagnoses of non-affective psychotic disorders among the population.

On a per capita basis, Sweden has granted more refugee applications than any other high-income country, the researchers said, and in 2011 refugees constituted 12 percent of the immigrant population.

Those studied included people born to two Swedish-born parents, refugees, and non-refugee migrants from the four major refugee generating regions: the Middle East and north Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Their results showed a total of 3,704 cases of psychotic disorders, with refugees given asylum some 66 percent more likely to develop schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder than non-refugee migrants. Refugees were also up to 3.6 times more likely suffer psychosis than the Swedish-born population.

The researchers said health officials in receiving countries should recognize the "need to take the early signs and symptoms of psychosis into account in refugee populations as part of any clinical mental health service response to current global humanitarian crises."

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In a commentary about the study, also published in the BMJ, Cornelius Katona, medical director at the Helen Bamber Foundation human rights charity, said Europe needed "a robust mental health response to the refugee crisis" and should try its best to reduce extra stresses imposed when migrants arrive.

"Consideration also needs to be given to the challenges that asylum seekers face during what is often a prolonged and distressing process," he said. "These factors may include institutional detention, inability to work (and resultant deskilling and loss of self esteem), destitution and difficulty in accessing health and social care."


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