Efficient identification of mental health problems in refugees in Germany: the Refugee Health Screener

Author(s): Elisa KALTENBACH, Eva HÄRDTNER, Katharin HERMENAU, Maggie SCHAUER, Thomas ELBERT



Background: A substantial number of refugees present with mental disorders. This appears particularly acute in the currently increasing refugee populations in Europe. Although EU guidelines demand the identification and support of vulnerable individuals such as survivors of trauma, no adequately validated and comprehensive mental health screening instruments for refugees residing in Europe currently exist.

Objective: We studied the feasibility, validity, and reliability of the Refugee Health Screener-15 (RHS-15) – a time-efficient and easy-to-implement screening developed by Hollifield et al. (2013) – as a self-rating and interview instrument.

Methods: A sample of refugees from different countries (N = 86), representative of those who had arrived around the turn of the year 2015/2016 in Germany, filled in the RHS-15 on their own. A semi-structured clinical interview was later conducted with a random subsample (n = 56).

Results: Fifty-two percent of the refugees examined screened positive in the RHS-15, thus indicating current mental health problems. The RHS-15 showed a good feasibility, reliability, and validity in both the self-rating and the interview version. It detected clinically relevant mental health problems when PTSD, depression, anxiety, or somatization problems were present. A shorter 13-item version proved to be equally valid.

Conclusions: Together with previous research on the RHS in refugees living in the US, this suggests that the RHS is a time-efficient and accurate instrument that is able to detect common mental health problems in a wide range of refugees. Prospectively, the RHS could be used as an instrument for identifying vulnerable refugees, for example, by integrating it in the initial medical examination in the host community, thereby initiating support.

Tags: Germany, Refugees, Screening,  PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, Somatisation

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