European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 439–446 | Cite as

Incidence of psychiatric disorders among accompanied and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Denmark: a nation-wide register-based cohort study

  • Marie Norredam
  • Laura Nellums
  • Runa Schmidt Nielsen
  • Stine Byberg
  • Jørgen Holm Petersen
Original Contribution


One in four asylum applicants in Europe are children, and 23% of whom are unaccompanied and may be at increased risk of mental illness. This study contributes to the limited evidence base by comparing the incidence of psychiatric disorders among unaccompanied and accompanied refugee children. We linked a cohort of refugee children who obtained right of residency in Denmark between 01 January 1993 and 31 December 2010 to the Danish Psychiatric Central Register, and calculated incidence rates per 100,000 person years and incidence rate ratios of overall psychiatric disorder, psychotic disorders, affective disorders, and neurotic disorders for accompanied and unaccompanied minors using Poisson regression. We adjusted the analyses for sex, age at residency, and age at arrival (aIRR). Stratified analyses were conducted by nationality. Unaccompanied minors had significantly higher rates of any psychiatric disorder (aIRR: 1.38, 95% CI 1.14–1.68) and neurotic disorders (aIRR: 1.67, 95% CI 1.32–2.13) than accompanied minors. Among children from Afghanistan, unaccompanied minors had significantly higher rates of any psychiatric disorder (aIRR: 2.23, 95% CI 1.26–3.93) and neurotic disorders (aIRR: 3.50, 95% CI 1.72–7.11). Among children from Iraq, unaccompanied minors had higher rates of any psychiatric disorder (aIRR: 2.02, 95% CI 1.18–3.45), affective disorders (aIRR: 6.04, 95% CI 2.17–16.8), and neurotic disorders (aIRR: 3.04, 95% CI 1.62–5.70). Unaccompanied children were found to experience a higher incidence of any psychiatric disorder and neurotic disorders. Strategies are needed to address the specific mental health and social needs of unaccompanied minors.


Refugee Asylum seeker Unaccompanied Child Mental health 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie Norredam
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Laura Nellums
    • 4
  • Runa Schmidt Nielsen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stine Byberg
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jørgen Holm Petersen
    • 5
  1. 1.Danish Research Centre for Migration, Ethnicity, and Health (MESU)University of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  2. 2.Section for Health Services Research, Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  3. 3.Section of Immigrant Medicine, Department of Infectious DiseasesUniversity Hospital HvidovreCopenhagenDenmark
  4. 4.Section of Infectious Diseases and Immunity, Department of Medicine, Imperial College LondonImperial College LondonLondonUK
  5. 5.Section for Biostatistics, Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark

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