Study launched to improve mental health of asylum seekers and refugees

In a UK first the University of Liverpool has launched a study to examine the effect brief psychosocial interventions have on the mental health and wellbeing of distressed asylum seekers and refugees.

Asylum seekers and refugees mostly come from developing countries where there is abuse of human rights, war and conflict. Consequently, many suffer from physical and mental health problems due to their experiences and untreated illness in their home countries, multiple dangers while travelling and the difficulties they face when they arrive.

In the UK, they often do not receive the help they need to address their mental health problems. Several barriers prevent them making use of the health care system and they commonly receive care only in an emergency. Usually the possible support they can access is from people in voluntary organisations who, although highly motivated, may not be skilled in helping people with high levels of distress.

Socially excluded groups 

Problem Management Plus (PM+) is a new psychological intervention, recommended by the World Health Organization for distressed adults living in adversity. Delivered by lay therapists, it offers people the skills they need to improve their management of practical and common mental health problems.

In a recent study in a conflict-affected region of Pakistan PM+ improved people’s mental health and their ability to lead their daily lives. However, PM+ has yet to be tried among socially excluded groups such as asylum seekers and refugees living in the UK.

Researchers from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, led by Professor Christopher Dowrick, will interview experts, service providers and policy makers who have experience of PM+ on how the intervention may be adapted to meet the needs of distressed asylum seekers and refugees locally. The researchers will also examine and review all the literature on the subject.

Afterwards, the procedures will be tested on a trial of the adapted intervention offered by lay therapists to distressed asylum seekers and refugees in contact with local voluntary organisations. The trial will involve either individuals or small groups, and a comparison with a control group who will receive usual support from a voluntary organisations. There will be about 35 people in each of these three groups. Participants will be asked about symptoms of anxiety and depression, and about problems with daily living; further questions on their wellbeing, the progress being made and problems identified as important, post-traumatic stress or depressive disorders, and the services recently being used. This will be done at three months and again at six months after first contact.

City of Sanctuary

The results will be checked to verify whether it is possible to run a full trial on the basis of: adapting PM+ to meet local needs; keeping therapists and participants involved in the study; ability of therapists to deliver the intervention in the ways they were trained to do; and whether the intervention itself, and the questionnaires we plan to use to evaluate it, make sense and are acceptable to study participants.

Professor Dowrick, said: “Liverpool is a City of Sanctuary, and has a proud history of welcoming people from all parts of the world. We are keen to find out if this new intervention can help to reduce the distress experienced by many asylum seekers and refugees in our City region.”

Based on the evidence, the decision will be on whether to design a full randomised controlled trial of a psychosocial intervention delivered by lay therapists to distressed asylum seekers and refugees.

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