Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

The Forgotten Minds of Refugees

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have made the difficult journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year alone, risking their lives to escape widespread poverty and political unrest in their country. Whilst this global event has been widely publicised in the media, the reality that many refugees suffer from mental illness is recognised much less by the general public.

For many refugees, leaving their country was the only option, having experienced conflict, violence and poverty –leaving many vulnerable to mental illness. Research has found that the incidence of mental illness is much greater in refugees than the general population, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not only have these people experienced enough trauma to motivate them to leave their country, they are also subjected to dire living conditions on their journey and often report having a low outlook on the future. Considering this past, present and perceived future distress, it is no wonder that half of German refugees have some form of mental illness.

In a recent study from the University of Hertfordshire, refugees with mental health problems were interviewed and six recurring themes in their ideology were identified. These included the feeling that their life was going nowhere; fear and mistrust of others; trauma-related hallucinations and the attraction of death.


Refugees do not just develop these neuroses during or after they attempt to seek asylum; many develop problems long before they leave. Even in the UK, over a quarter of people experience mental health problems at some point in their life; the difference is – whilst sufferers in this country receive the support and guidance that they need to recover or to deal with their illness, refugees simply do not have these services available to them.


It is very easy to look at the death toll and assume that the hardships of these people end when they make it to their destination, but this is just not the case. In the UK this year, 66% of appeals from asylum seekers have been dismissed, leaving the majority in limbo – causing further emotional distress. A new agreement has been settled that means the UK will now accept 20,000 refugees from Syria across the next five years, which is a step in the right direction given the tendency to shift the responsibility to other EU countries.


Not only is it desperately clear that the UK and the EU as a whole needs to do more to tackle this crisis and provide more social support for refugees, more focus should be put on treating mental health. Many refugees could benefit hugely from psychotherapy, however this seems to be neither a reality nor a concern for this desperately vulnerable group of people.