1-year follow-up of the mental health and stress factors in asylum-seeking children and adolescents resettled in Germany

Author(s): Lauritz Rudolf FLORIBERT MUELLER, Katharina GOSSMANN, Franziska HARTMANN, Karl Phillipp BUETER, Rita ROSNERJohanna UNTERHITZENBERGER

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7263-6

Background

Asylum-seeking children and adolescents (ASCs) who have resettled in Western countries show elevated rates of psychological distress, including Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS), depression, and anxiety. Most longitudinal data suggest a relatively stable course of symptoms during the first years in exile. However, no longitudinal examination of the mental health of ASCs, who resettled in Europe in the wake of the 2015–17 European migrant crisis, has been conducted so far.

Methods

A prospective cohort study looked at 98 ASCs who resettled in southern Germany throughout 2015–17. They mainly came from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, and Iraq. Baseline assessments were undertaken 22 months, on average, after resettlement, and follow-up assessments 1 year thereafter. Seventy-two ASCs could be secured for the follow-up. The measures included self-report questionnaires screening for PTSS, depression, anxiety, externalizing behavior, and post-migration factors that were administered in an interview-like setting. Results were analyzed using hierarchical multiple regression analysis.

Results

Participating ASCs reported on average eight potentially traumatic experiences and high levels of psychological distress at baseline that had significantly declined at follow-up. At follow-up, rates of clinically significant symptoms ranged from 9.7% (externalizing behavior) to 37.5% (PTSS). There was considerable individual variation in symptom change resulting in multiple mental health trajectories. ASCs whose asylum applications had been rejected presented significantly more symptoms than ASCs whose asylum applications had been accepted between assessments. Baseline psychopathology and asylum status predicted follow-up symptom severity.

Conclusions

In contrast to earlier studies, the symptom severity in this sample of ASCs in Germany ameliorated between assessments. Decisions on the asylum applications of ASCs are thought to contribute to the course of symptoms. Since levels of psychological distress were still high, dissemination and implementation of appropriate treatments for ASCs is crucial.

Tags: Adolescents, Children, Afghanistan, Germany, Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Anxiety, PTSD, Clinical interventions, Residence status, Asylum seekers, Asylum procedures

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