A new study finds that up to 40% of adults who sought asylum in Finland in 2018 reported that they were suffering from major depression and anxiety symptoms. In addition, more than half of adults and children, particularly those from Sub-Saharan Africa, reported having experienced at least one shocking or traumatic event such as being subjected to violence.
The study, conducted by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, involved more than 1,000 asylum seekers who had just arrived in Finland. The purpose of the study was to gather detailed information on the health and welfare of adults and minors who had sought asylum in Finland in 2018 and their need for services in Finland.
The study subjects took part in an interview and underwent a medical examination. To date, the research is the most extensive population study focused on the health of asylum seekers both at a national and international level.
“Over 60% of asylum seekers coming from Sub-Saharan Africa had depression and anxiety symptoms — the percentage is higher than among asylum seekers from other areas,” said Anu Castaneda, Research Manager from the National Institute for Health and Welfare.
“The same group had also had the highest number of shocking experiences before coming to Finland. For example, 67% of men from Africa reported having experienced torture and 57% of women reported experiences of sexual violence.”
According to Castaneda, it is, therefore, important to support the mental health and functioning capacity of asylum seekers already at the reception stage.
“This may be effected by supporting meaningful everyday life and activities of asylum seekers, as well as by providing counselling and discussions and information on mental health and by investing in the smooth operation of referral paths. It is particularly important to support the welfare of children and families,” said Castaneda.
A larger share of women than men, 49% in all, reported having a long-term illness or health problem, such as musculoskeletal condition, diabetes or respiratory disorder. When arriving in Finland, every 10th woman in the study was pregnant.
On the other hand, men had more injuries caused by accidents and violence, their share being as high as 55%. Men also smoked cigarettes more often than women, their share being up to 37%.
In many areas of health, the situation of those coming from the Middle East and Africa was worse than that of asylum seekers from other parts of the world.
“It would be advisable to disseminate more health-related information to asylum seekers in an understandable and easy-to-approach form,” said Natalia Skogberg, Project Manager from the National Institute of Health and Welfare.
Asylum seekers also had other health conditions, such as poor oral health. Most of the asylum seekers under the age of 18 had never been to a dentist before coming to Finland.
Some of the findings were quite positive with respect to health. For example, 85% of adults seeking asylum said they did not drink any alcohol, and only a small percentage were drinking to get intoxicated. Use of other substances was also rare among other asylum seekers. Furthermore, very few of those studied showed symptoms of infectious diseases.
“The results of the study are important particularly as we want to develop our activities by which we respond to the health needs of asylum seekers,” said Olli Snellman of the Finnish Immigration Service.
“Based on the results, we are in the process of updating and developing the initial medical examination model applied to asylum seekers, to be adopted in all reception centres around Finland.”