Refugees battle mental health problems in Sweden

Published: 22 November 2016 13:50 CET


By Swedish Red Cross


One in three Syrian refugees suffers from depression, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a Swedish Red Cross study has found.


Mental health problems are common among newly-resettled refugees and asylum seekers searching for safety in in Sweden, especially among those from war-torn Syria. Disturbingly, as many as 30 per cent of Syrian refugees report that they have experienced some form of torture in the past.


"Depression, anxiety and poor well-being is common - at least three times higher compared to the general population,” said Fredrik Saboonchi, Professor in Public Health at the Red Cross University College, which co-authored the study together with the Swedish Red Cross.  

Almost 1,400 newly-resettled refugees and asylum from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia took part in the study.

Overwhelming presence of trauma and torture


Almost all people who took part in the study indicated that they had experienced at least one traumatic event at some point in their lives – either in their home country or during their journey to safety. Such harrowing and often life-threathening experiences have a long-lasting psychological impact.


According to the findings, as many as one-in-three Syrian refugees displayed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues are most common in middle-aged women. Refugees and asylum seekers also suffer different types of stress as a result of leaving their homes – such as losing family members or being separated from loved ones, money problems, feeling a loss of independence and self-worth and being treated differently by society because of their nationality.


“The study shows why it is so important that resources are made available for people affected by mental health issues,” said Ulrika Wickman, Head of the Migrant Health Care Unit at the Swedish Red Cross.


“But refugees should not be victimized. For many, safety, security and support are enough to help cope with the issues and begin the healing process.”

Social support


Good mental health and overall well-being are vital for refugees to be able to enter to find jobs and play a role in society. Even in Sweden, a country with broad exprience and a developed asylum seeker support system, up to 70 per cent felt that they didn’t have enough social support.



The Swedish Red Cross has been actively supporting migrants’ social and physiological well-being for more than 30 years. During this time, tens of thousands of people suffering from trauma linked to torture, war or dangerous migration have been treated. Today, the Red Cross runs six dedicated treatment centers for refugees and asylum-seekers with mental health issues across the country.