Many gaps in research about mental health among unaccompanied minors
1 apr 2020
An increasing proportion of unaccompanied minors arriving in the Nordic countries are girls and younger in age. These two groups have been the focus of much less research than older unaccompanied minor teenage boys. Research and evaluation of specific interventions to support mental health among unaccompanied minors is sorely needed, according to Nordic Welfare Centre’s new report Mental health and well-being of unaccompanied minors: A Nordic overview.
The report surveys different aspects of health of unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the Nordic region. The focus is on mental health issues rather than physical health, as the former are usually seen as posing more of a challenge to successful integration and to the social and health services in the Nordic countries.
The European Unions’ guidance on unaccompanied minors states that the children require specific and appropriate protection. They are in a state of particular vulnerability due to their age, distance from home, and separation from parents or carers. They are exposed to risks and have possibly witnessed extreme forms of violence, exploitation, human trafficking, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse before and/or after their arrival.
Positive mental health less researched
– There is a great variety in the results of quantifying mental health difficulties among unaccompanied minors. Still, literature indicates consistently that they have a markedly higher prevalence of poor mental health compared with background populations. It seems that positive mental health, such as well-being or quality of life, has been much less researched. The focus is often on problems, negative feelings, challenges, ailments, and disorders, says Nina Rehn-Mendoza, the author of the report and Deputy Director at the Nordic Welfare Centre.
– We also know little about development over time. The arrival phase and the settling in is mapped, but not how the children´s well-being develops into adulthood. Longitudinal studies covering the general life status such as health, education, work, social networks, and family status are needed.
Standardised screening instrument necessary
The integration and well-being of female unaccompanied minors poses both an opportunity and a challenge.
– Girls may have new opportunities of education, employment, and social contacts to the opposite sex, while at the same time they may struggle with the social norms and culture of their origin. More research, especially quantitative research, on their mental health and well-being is needed, says Nina Rehn-Mendoza.
According to the report school health surveys that include more comprehensive questions on mental health and well-being, and which separate unaccompanied minors from other immigrant children might provide valuable health information about this group.
– Using a common, standardised, and culturally validated screening instrument and study design across studies in the Nordic countries would provide much needed comparative research, Nina Rehn-Mendoza states.
Number of unaccompanied minors per country 2015 (the highest number of arrivals was in 2015) and 2018
Denmark 2130 243
Finland 2530 109
Sweden 34 300 944
Iceland 10 18
Norway 4790 159
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