Mental Health Needs and Services for Migrants: An Overview for Primary Care Providers

C. Rousseau et R. Frounfelker (2018)

Journal of Travel Medicine


Abstract Background

The objective of this article is to present an overview of the burden, spectrum of diseases, and risk factors for mental illness among subgroups of migrants, namely immigrants, refugees, and individuals with precarious legal status. This expert review summarizes some of the implications for primary care services in migrant receiving countries in the global North.


A broad literature review was conducted on the epidemiology of mental health disorder in migrants and refugee and on the available evidence on mental health services for this population focusing on key issues for primary care practitioners in high income countries.


Although most migrants are resilient, migration is associated with an overrepresentation of mental disorder in specific subpopulations. There is general consensus that stress related disorders are more prevalent among refugee populations of all ages compared to the general population. Relative to refugees, migrants with precarious legal status may be at even higher risk for depression and anxiety disorders. Persistence and severity of psychiatric disorders among migrant populations can be attributed to a combination of factors, including severity of trauma exposures during the migration process. Exposure to stressors after resettlement, such as poverty and limited social support, also impact mental illness. Services for migrants are affected by restricted accessibility, and should address cultural and linguistic barriers and issues in the larger social environment that impact psychosocial functioning.


There is substantial burden of mental illness among some migrant populations. Primary care providers seeking to assist individuals need to be cognizant of language barriers and challenges of working with interpreters as well as sensitive to cultural and social contexts within the diagnosis and service delivery process. In addition, best practices in screening migrants and providing intervention services for mental disorders need to be sensitive to where individuals and families are in the resettlement trajectory.