Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 523–532 | Cite as

The Psychological Consequences of Pre-Emigration Trauma and Post-Migration Stress in Refugees and Immigrants from Africa

  • Jennifer L. SteelEmail author
  • Andrea C. Dunlavy
  • Collette E. Harding
  • Töres Theorell
Original Paper


Over 50 million people have been displaced, some as a result of conflict, which exposure can lead to psychiatric sequelae. The aims of this study were to provide estimates of pre-emigration trauma, post-migration stress, and psychological sequelae of immigrants and refugees from predominantly Sub-Saharan Africa who immigrated to Sweden. We also examined the predictors of the psychiatric sequelae as well as acculturation within the host country. A total of 420 refugees and immigrants were enrolled using stratified quota sampling. A battery of questionnaires including the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, Post-Migration Living Difficulties Scale, the Cultural Lifestyle Questionnaire; and the Hopkins Checklist were administered. Descriptive statistics, Chi square analyses, Pearson correlations, analysis of variance, and logistic and linear regression were performed to test the aims of the study. Eighty-nine percent of participants reported at least one traumatic experience prior to emigration. Forty-seven percent of refugees reported clinically significant PTSD and 20 % reported clinically significant depressive symptoms. Males reported a significantly greater number of traumatic events [F(1, 198) = 14.5, p < 0.001] and post-migration stress than females [F(1, 414) = 5.3, p = 0.02], particularly on the financial, discrimination, and healthcare subscales. Females reported a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms when compared to males [F(1, 419) = 3.9, p = 0.05]. Those with a shorter duration in Sweden reported higher rates of PTSD [F(63, 419) = 1.7, p < 0.001]. The greater number of traumatic events was found to be significantly associated with the severity of PTSD symptoms [F(34, 419) = 9.6, p < 0.001]. Using regression analysis, 82 and 83 % of the variances associated with anxiety and depression, respectively, was explained by gender, education, religion, PTSD and post-migration stress. Sixty-nine percent of the variance associated with PTSD included education, number of traumatic events, depressive symptoms and post-migration stress. Forty-seven percent of the variance for acculturation was accounted for by a model that included age, education, duration in Sweden, anxiety, depression, and post-migration stress. These predictors were also significant for employment status with the exception of depressive symptoms. Multidimensional interventions that provide treatments to improve psychiatric symptoms in combination with advocacy and support to reduce stress (e.g., financial, access to health care) are recommended. The focus of the intervention may also be modified based on the gender of the participants.


Refugees Trauma Post-migration stress Depression PTSD Acculturation 



The authors would like to thank the participants of this study who took the time to complete the interviews and share with us their stories of migration and resettlement.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer L. Steel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrea C. Dunlavy
    • 1
  • Collette E. Harding
    • 1
  • Töres Theorell
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic SurgeryDepartment of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of Neuroscience Karolinska InstituteKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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