Background: migration has become a major political and social concern in West European societies.
Methods: a case–control method was used to analyse the utilisation of inpatient mental health services by immigrants from a catchment area in Switzerland over a 7-year period.
Results: compared to natives, immigrants had fewer psychiatric hospitalisations, but more emergency and compulsory admissions. During inpatient treatment, they received less psycho-, ergo- and physiotherapy. Other therapies as well as compulsory measures were at comparable rates, as was the frequency of irregular discharge. They spent shorter periods as inpatients and the rate of psychiatric readmissions was significantly lower. Comparison of different countries of origin revealed that only patients from West and North Europe were comparable to natives regarding type of referral, inpatient treatment, and longitudinal measures of service utilisation. Even after accounting for effects of social class, immigrants from South Europe, former Yugoslavia, Turkey, East Europe and more distant countries spent significantly shorter time in inpatient treatment, compared to Swiss control patients.
Conclusions: results of this study clearly point to an underutilisation of inpatient facilities among immigrants with mental disorders, and to disadvantages in psychiatric inpatient care. This, however, does not pertain to all foreign patients to the same extent: inequalities of mental health service use are particularly pronounced in immigrants from more distant countries.
Key words: migration, mental disorders, psychiatric hospitalisation, service utilisation