Quicker, better care needed for refugee mental health

3:28 min

Earlier checks-ups and support in different languages can improve the mental health of Sweden's asylum seekers, according to a new study, and better their chances for integrating into society.

The pilot report, carried out by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) and Värmland county, says earlier help is need for asylum seekers who are at risk for mental illnesses. Many refugees and asylum seekers currently have to wait months just to undergo an examination.

SKL's legal adviser for its mental health project Maria Nyström Agback told Radio Sweden that providing effective care starts with the first check-up.

"The starting point will always be that individual's needs and those will be different," she said. "We think that many people suffer from trauma but not all. People react differently to hardships so we don't know."

It's estimated between 20 to 30 percent of refugees in Sweden suffer from a mental illness, according to the National Board for Health and Welfare.

However, Nyström Agback said Sweden's counties lack the resources to tackle the problem and that the challenge now is to educate local health care works on what they can do when meeting patients from different cultural backgrounds.

She said SKL will provide online courses to health workers on how to better assess their mental health needs.

"For example," she said, "you don't need to mention depression if you don't want to. You can talk about 'Do you feel sad? Have trouble sleeping? Do you worry a lot?'"