Neighbourhood socioeconomic disadvantage and psychiatric disorders among refugees: a population-based, quasi-experimental study in Denmark

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PURPOSE: Refugees are vulnerable to psychiatric disorders because of risk factors linked to migration. Limited evidence exist on the impact of the neighbourhood in which refugee resettle. We examined whether resettling in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood increased refugees' risk of psychiatric disorders.

METHODS: This register-based cohort study included 42,067 adults aged 18 years and older who came to Denmark as refugees during 1986-1998. Resettlement policies in those years assigned refugees in a quasi-random fashion to neighbourhoods across the country. A neighbourhood disadvantage index was constructed using neighbourhood-level data on income, education, unemployment, and welfare receipt. Main outcomes were psychiatric diagnoses and psychiatric medication usage ascertained from nationwide patient and prescription drug registers, with up to 30-year follow-up. Associations of neighbourhood disadvantage with post-migration risk of psychiatric disorders were examined using Cox proportional hazards and linear probability models adjusted for individual, family, and municipality characteristics.

RESULTS: The cumulative risk of psychiatric diagnoses and medication was 13.7% and 46.1%, respectively. Refugees' risk of psychiatric diagnoses and psychiatric medication usage was higher among individuals assigned to high-disadvantage compared with low-disadvantage neighbourhoods in analyses including fixed effects for assigned municipality (psychiatric diagnoses: hazard ratio (HR) = 1.14, 95% CI 1.04, 1.25; psychiatric medication: HR = 1.05, 95% CI 1.00, 1.11). Consistent results were found using linear probability models. Results for diagnostic categories and subclasses of medications suggested that the associations were driven by neurotic and stress-related disorders and use of anxiolytic medications.

CONCLUSION: Resettlement in highly disadvantaged neighbourhoods was associated with an increase in refugees' risk of psychiatric disorders, suggesting that targeted placement of newly arrived refugees could benefit refugee mental health. The results contribute quasi-experimental evidence to support links between neighbourhood characteristics and health.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Pages (from-to)711–721
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany.

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