Mental health among torture survivors: cultural background, refugee status and gender

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Schubert, C. C., & Punamääki, R. (2011). Mental health among torture survivors: cultural background, refugee status and gender. Nordic Journal Of Psychiatry, 65(3), 175-182. doi:10.3109/08039488.2010.514943

Background: The experience of torture places the survivors at a heightened risk for somatic and mental health problems. Aims: This study examined the role of culture, refugee status and gender in the mental and somatic health among help-seekers in a centre for torture survivors in Finland.

Method: The 78 participants (29 women and 49 men) were interviewed and assessed with the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R) and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL-25) scales and their somatic complaints were registered. Groups with Middle Eastern, Central African, Southern Asian and South Eastern European cultural backgrounds were compared.

Results: Group differences were found in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depressive symptoms and somatic complaints. As hypothesized, Southern European torture survivors showed a higher level of PTSD than cultural groups from more traditional collective societies in Middle East, Asia and Africa, and more depressive symptoms than survivors from a Southern Asian background. Against the hypothesis, South Eastern European subjects reported also more somatic complaints than Central African survivors. Women suffered more from PTSD and depressive symptoms than men in all cultural groups. Asylum-seeking status was marginally associated with anxiety symptoms only in the South Eastern European group.

Conclusion: Health services should consider the influence of culture in the expression of psychological and somatic symptoms and avoid a simplistic distinction between somatic and psychological expressions of pain.

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