Mental health support to refugees should not be a luxury

Mental Health Europe (MHE) is deeply worried by barriers which may prevent migrants and refugees from accessing much needed quality mental healthcare and support. MHE is further concerned by the current handling of the migration question by the EU, which has failed to address basic humanitarian and protection needs. In its most recent position paper, MHE explores the human rights, economic and social rationale for providing mental health and psychosocial support to migrants and refugees in Europe and warns Member States of the possible consequences of inaction.

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 and more than 300,000 have arrived since January 2016. Many of them have endured physical and emotional trauma, including torture, loss of loved ones, violence and exploitation. Many organisations on the ground, including MHE members, are warning authorities of the heightened risk of migrants and refugees experiencing mental distress which could lead to mental health problems in the absence of appropriate support. Providing access to mental health and psychosocial support should be seen as a priority, not a luxury.

Providing quality mental healthcare and support is key to helping migrants and refugees settle in Europe. Denying access to mental healthcare and support today will only lead to future challenges in EU Member States tomorrow. It has been acknowledged by the World Health Organization that prevention and early intervention in relation to mental health is cheaper in the long-term. Besides the obvious economic and social case for providing mental healthcare to migrants and refugees, the EU should not forget its core values including human rights and freedom.

“EU Member States need to be reminded that all migrants, irrespective of their status and nationality are entitled to their fundamental rights including the right to access mental healthcare” recalls MHE President Nigel Henderson.

Psychological reactions and distress experienced by migrants and refugees in response to the challenges they face are completely normal. Many can be supported by social interventions whereas some may need more extensive mental healthcare or support. However, it is crucial to remember that if mental health support is to be effective it needs to be culturally sensitive, person-centred and accessible.

“Many of them may never have even heard of mental health and well-being before, or they might understand it differently or associate it with stigma. They may express fear or other emotions in ways that are unfamiliar to us.” says Mr Henderson.

The position paper calls for:

  • A coordinated and human rights-based European response to the current crisis
  • Culturally appropriate and accessible mental healthcare and support for all migrants and refugees regardless of status
  • Mental health and cultural training to be provided to all personnel who come into contact with migrants and refugees so that they can identify, understand and support people experiencing mental distress.

Source: Mental Health Europe


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