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Study: 4 in 10 asylum seekers in Finland report anxiety, depression

More than half of adults and children said they'd faced at least one unsettling or traumatic event before coming to Finland.

Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Up to forty percent of asylum applicants in Finland have reported experiencing symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL said on Tuesday.

In addition, more than half of adults and children said that before they came to Finland, they had experienced at least one shocking or possibly traumatic incident, such as being targeted by violence.

The findings come from a new study on asylum seekers’ health and wellbeing, in which researchers interviewed more than 1,000 new arrivals to the country. The respondents also underwent health checks.

"People from sub-Saharan Africa had more depression and anxiety symptoms that people from other areas. The same group had experienced more distressing events than others. For example, 67 percent of men coming from Africa reported experiencing torture and 57 percent of women spoke of sexual violence," THL research chief Anu Castaneda said in a release.

Castaneda called on authorities to support asylum seekers’ mental health and their ability to function in society as early as the reception stage.

"For example this could involve supporting asylum seekers by providing a meaningful life and activities, therapeutic discussions and information about mental health, and by investing in the functionality of treatment pathways. Supporting the wellbeing of children and families is especially important," she added.

Women’s health more fragile than men’s

Half of the women who came to Finland in search of asylum said that they were suffering from some kind of chronic illness or health problem such as musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes or respiratory ailments. One in ten women arrived in Finland pregnant.

Men on the other hand, had more injuries related to accidents and violence. They also smoked more than women.

The study showed that asylum applicants also had many other health issues. For example a majority of underage children had never visited a dentist before they came to Finland. Authors of the study said that many aspects of health care in the Middle East and in Africa were weaker than in other areas.

"It would be good to distribute health information to asylum seekers in a more approachable and easier to understand fashion,” noted THL project manager Natalia Skogberg.

Minimal use of alcohol and drugs

Some aspects of the research revealed positive signs, however. Roughly 85 percent of adult asylum seekers said they did not consume alcohol at all; just a few percent said they did. Meanwhile the use of other narcotics was rare among asylum seekers.

Researchers also found little evidence of infectious disease.

"The results of the research are important because we want to better respond to the needs of asylum seekers," said Finnish Immigration Agency department head Olli Snellman.

The study of asylum seekers’ health and wellbeing is so far the most extensive mapping of asylum seeker health on both a national and international level. The goal of the project is to provide comprehensive health and welfare information about adults and children who sought asylum in Finland in 2018, and to identify their service needs.

The project was conducted in collaboration with the Finnish Immigration Agency, Migri, as well as reception centres and with support from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.