Previous studies have found that refugees are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder than non-refugees. However, much existing evidence on the mental health of refugees comes from studies conducted in high-income countries, where only a minority of refugees live. This study, reported in BMJ Mental Health, aims to fill this gap by conducting a multi-country representative survey with refugees and host communities in urban and camp contexts in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.
The authors, Julia R Pozuelo (Harvard University), Raphael Bradenbrink (RSC), Maria Flinder Stierna (RSC) and Olivier Sterck (RSC), found a high prevalence of elevated depressive symptoms and functional impairment among the refugee population, which was significantly higher than that found in the host population. Further, they observed a dose–response relationship between exposure to violence and mental illness. Lastly, high depressive symptoms and functional impairment were associated with worse socio-economic outcomes.
The results highlight that refugees in East Africa – particularly those exposed to violence and extended exile periods – are disproportionately affected by depression, which may also hinder their socio-economic integration. Given this high prevalence of depression, the findings underline the need for scalable interventions that can promote refugees’ well-being. Further, they suggest that increasing access to mental health interventions may create a virtuous cycle of increasing returns and provide an economic case for investing in refugees’ mental health.