Psychoses, PTSD, and depression in Somali refugees in Minnesota
Initial clinical observation of Somali patients seen at a busy inner-city community clinic (CUHCC) suggested that, in addition to the expected pictures of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression previously seen in the clinic’s Southeast Asian refugee population from 1980 to 2000, there was an unusually high number of young Somali men presenting with acute psychotic disturbances.
The aim of this study of health care utilization of Somali refugees (N = 600) seen in the mental health unit of the clinic from 2001 to 2009 was to investigate the major patterns of psychiatric disorders in this outpatient population and compare these findings with a cohort of non-Somali patients (N = 3,009) seen at the same outpatient clinic during the years 2007–2009. If the results supported the initial clinical observations that the rate of psychoses was higher among young Somali men than non-Somali men attending CUHCC clinic, then several areas of further research would recommend itself. First, since this study was not a study of prevalence of mental illness in the Somali community, the next step would be to undertake a study of community prevalence of mental illness among different age and gender cohorts. Second, further research should look into likely causative and contributory risk factors to explain the development of psychoses among Somali young men.
Somali and non-Somali patients were diagnosed according to DSM-IV-R criteria. Main outcome measures (diagnoses, age cohort, sex) were analyzed by Chi-square tests. Patterns of illness and adjustment varied significantly by age and gender cohorts, reflecting the relevance of age and gender at time of trauma on different trauma and loss experiences and cultural and religious shaping of subsequent adjustment and symptoms.
The study confirmed that almost half of the Somali male patients are under age 30, 80% of whom presented with psychoses, compared with the rate of psychosis (13.7%) in the non-Somali control group of same-aged males at the clinic. The older male, and the majority of Somali female patients, show predominantly depressive and PTSD symptomatology.
War trauma experienced in childhood, early malnutrition from famines, head trauma, and excess Khat use in male adolescents provide partial explanations for the large number of young psychotic Somali men seen in the clinic from 2001 to 2009.
KeywordsSomali refugees Psychoses PTSD Khat Refugee mental health
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