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Study: Second-generation immigrants more likely to show signs of PTSD

Children whose parents left areas in North Africa and the Middle East are especially susceptible, according to new research.

Mustaan huppariin pukeutunut nuori istuu pää painuneena jalat ristissä.
Cross-generational PTSD is not yet well documented worldwide, researchers said. Image: Timo Nykyri / Yle

Children of one or more immigrant parents are more likely to exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms than people with two Finnish parents, according to a new study from the University of Turku.

"The study found that the risk of inherited PTSD was almost double among children who were born less than five years after their fathers immigrated to Finland," said the main author of the research, Sanju Silwal, adding that the study found that children of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East are especially susceptible.

The researchers said the result is linked with the fact that often people from these regions must flee their country and enter Finland as refugees. The study found that the journey and the events in their home country that led to their departure are often highly traumatic.

PTSD can develop as a result of being exposed to traumatic events. Symptoms of the condition include reliving difficult memories, avoidance of trauma triggers, trouble with cognition and moods as well as a heightened alertness caused by anxiety.

Results assist with early detection

Silwal said the findings of the study are significant for the research field as well as those working with immigrants.

Silwal said that the health care and education sectors should be more aware of the cultural backgrounds of the children in their care, as a difficult family life or trauma can tie in with disruptive behaviour.

"The study of cross-generational stress disorders will become more important in Finland as the immigrant population grows," said Silwali.

If left untreated, PTSD can increase the risk of developing additional psychological disorders and lead to chronic diseases such as depression and cardiovascular disease. The study's findings state that cross-generational trauma is not well understood and more research is required.

The nationwide registry-based study included 3,639 children born in Finland in 1987-2012 diagnosed with PTSD.

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