Non-profit: Thousands of refugee children need psychiatric help

Thousands of underage asylum seekers and quota refugees need psychiatric help to combat depression, sleeplessness and detachment.

Image: Nella Nuora / Yle

Approximately one third of the asylum seeker children travelling alone and a quarter of the minors who have entered Finland as quota refugees need mental health help, says the Helsinki Deaconess Institute (HDI), a non-profit that works to prevent social exclusion.

According to HDI, the psychiatric services available to refugee children in Finland are inadequate and cannot keep up with the huge demand. This is because refugee families face complicated problems for prolonged periods of time, which in turn is reflected in the disproportionately large number of child protection cases among refugee families, the institute says.

The reasons for mental health problems are diverse, ranging from violence, loss or absence of family to harsh transitions and culture shock.

“During transit to Finland, many have faced exploitation of some kind, sexual violence or extortion,” says project manager Marjo Neste from HDI. Such experiences can cause sleeplessness, nightmares, depression or detachment, she adds.

Statistics from the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) show that 3,448 underage children travelling alone arrived in Finland as asylum seekers in 2015-17. In all, the number of asylum applications for under-18-year-olds totalled 10,779 over the three years.

In addition, Finland has accepted about 3,000 children as quota refugees between 2010 and 2016.

More professionals trained

Over the past three years, HDI has trained 2,500 people to work with refugee children as the need for skilled professionals has grown in the municipalities.

“Working with patients who have experienced traumatic events and providing therapy with the help of an interpreter is different, but possible,” Neste says. “What is more, different cultures view mental health problems and psychiatric illnesses differently and sometimes it takes time to seek help.”

HDI also argues that the number of quota refugees should be increased from the current annual limit of 750 persons. While asylum seekers live in constant uncertainty, quota refugees benefit from a permanent residence permit and integration services.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said in September that the number of quota refugees that Finland welcomes each year could be raised to between 1,500 and 2,000 in future.