European Journal of Pediatrics

, Volume 177, Issue 12, pp 1767–1774 | Cite as

What can we learn from unaccompanied refugee adolescents’ perspectives on mental health care in exile?

  • Frederikke JarlbyEmail author
  • Simone Goosen
  • Ilse Derluyn
  • Kathrine Vitus
  • Signe Smith Jervelund
Original Article


Unaccompanied refugee adolescents who have fled war and persecution often have poor mental health. Yet, little is known about their own perspectives on what can relieve their mental health problems. The aim was to explore unaccompanied refugee adolescents’ perspectives on healing and the mental healthcare offered to them when resettled. The study was based on methodical triangulation of participant observation in a Danish municipal institution for unaccompanied refugee minors, semi-structured individual interviews with experts, social workers and male refugee minors and a focus group interview with refugee minors. Results show that the refugee adolescents associated traditional conversational therapy with discussing negative and stigmatising aspects of their past and carrying risks of re-traumatisation. Instead, alternative activities were proposed, through which resources could be accumulated and they could be met without stereotype.

Conclusion: To enhance the complex mental health needs of unaccompanied minors’ mental healthcare, the perspective of the refugee adolescents should be taken into account. This calls for a holistic approach to mental healthcare in their daily lives, where they are met in a non-stigmatising manner in which their unique capabilities are the main focus. Moreover, a trusting relationship constitutes the fundament to support good mental health among refugee adolescents.

What is Known:

• Unaccompanied refugee adolescents are at risk of poor mental health outcomes, e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD and psychosocial stress.

• Stigma, lack of social support, stressful life events and lack of intercultural competency among mental health professionals are barriers to good mental health.

What is New:

• There is a need for informal and tailored health promotion initiatives in the refugee adolescentseveryday lives.

• To treat the refugee adolescents as equal human beings through curiosity and receptiveness to their resources is important in order to build trust and address stigma.


Exile Minors Psychosocial URM Well-being Youth perspective 



Convention of the Rights of the Child


Post-traumatic stress syndrome


The World Health Organization


Authors’ contributions

FJ and SSJ conceived the study. FJ conducted the fieldwork, performed the data analysis, wrote the first draft of the manuscript and finalised the manuscript. SSJ supervised the study design and the analysis. SG, ID, KV and SSJ contributed to critically reviewing and revising the manuscript. The final manuscript as submitted is approved by all authors.

Compliance with ethical statements

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Informed consent

Before the fieldwork, a detailed information sheet about the researcher and the aim of the study was provided to all participants. Informed consent was given by all participants in the study. For participants younger than 18 years of age, informed consent was also given by legally authorised representatives. All details which might lead to identification of the participants were changed in the presentation of the results.

Supplementary material

431_2018_3249_MOESM1_ESM.docx (32 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Health, Danish Research Centre for Migration, Ethnicity and HealthCopenhagen UniversityCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Netherlands Association for Community Health ServicesUtrechtNetherlands
  3. 3.Department of Social Work and Social PedagogyGhent UniversityGentBelgium
  4. 4.Department of Sociology and Social WorkAalborg UniversityCopenhagenDenmark

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