Johan Bergendorff / SR
Harvard professor Richard Mollica was critical that refugees in Sweden often meet new doctors on each visit. Photo: Johan Bergendorff / SR

Sweden not equipped to care for refugees with PTSD

Professor: You don't see the same doctor...This is a disaster for refugees
5:32 min

Many of the refugees who come to Sweden suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but the health-care system is under-equipped to help them cope.

Swedish Radio's global health correspondent cited studies showing that one in 10 asylum seekers arriving in Sweden last year suffers from PTSD. But because there are only 13 clinics in Sweden that offer specialized treatment for PTSD only one in four sufferers get help.

Richard Mollica, a leading trauma researcher at Harvard University who has worked at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in Sweden it's common for patients to see different doctors at each visit. Few then gain the confidence to open up about experiences like rape or torture.

"Swedish Primary health care, where most of the refugees go, you don't see the same doctor on each visit. This is a disaster for refugees," Mollica told Swedish Radio's reporter Johan Bergendorff.

Mollica's own "integrated holistic method", as he calls it, has five steps and he claims that around 80 percent of his patients improve. The first is to talk about one's trauma. Second, a doctor should carry out a physical examination after which a therapist takes over in step three.

The fourth step is to ensure the patient is engaged in meaningful activities like work or study. But here, too, refugees in Sweden face specific challenges, namely the demand for strong Swedish skills, which leads to high unemployment rates among refugees.

"In America we don't care if you speak English or not. You need a job period. In Sweden you need to speak Swedish," he said. "So somehow Swedish authorities have to work this out. Because they can't have people sitting around for five to ten years waiting to learn Swedish before they can work."

A fifth and final stage in Mollica's integrated holistic method for PTSD-treatment is meeting the patient's spiritual needs like ensuring they can practice their religion or engage in mindfulness, yoga, or meditation.

If PTSD goes untreated, the person will likely become ill later in life, says Mollica.

"Trauma, traumatic life experiences, is highly associated 20 years down the road with diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, stuff like that," said Mollica.


Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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