Refugees and Mental Health

Refugees and Mental Health: Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental health difficulties — including conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — are not unknown within the volunteer/humanitarian sector. But what must it be like for the refugees?

Photo credit: Futuro Berg

Mental health issues appear endemic in Calais. A whole 21.2% of those with health issues self-declared that these issues were mental health issues rather than physical ailments. This is a markedly higher figure than in April 2017 (16.4%).
— Refugee Rights Data Project, Twelve Months On (Oct. 2017), p. 26


Thankfully for those volunteering in Calais, we have the support of wonderful groups like the Refugee Resilience Collective (RRC) and the Solidarity and Support Network (SSuN) (please check them out and know of their existence — they are wonderful). And when in the UK, for example, it’s possible to receive mental health support from the NHS. But mental health support for refugees can be near non-existent.


Occasionally, when the many variables happen to coincide, RRC, working with our partners the Refugee Youth Service (RYS), might be able to meet with one or two of the refugee minors in Calais, or see a few people in Dunkirk with the Refugee Women’s Centre (RWC). RYS and RWC themselves provide activities to help build a sense of community and solidarity, and fun. But all involved are very aware that the help we provide is minimal. Help Refugees and Utopia 56 have dedicated “hospital run” teams who try to help refugees access medical provision available at the local hospital. Médecins du Monde also refer people to the local hospital. But the hospital provision is minimal, despite the support of some compassionate doctors within the system. And, of course, many of the underling contributors to poor mental health within the refugee community continue: police violence, no shelter, diminishing hope, boredom, etc., etc., etc.

Not all wounds are visible and the poor mental health of the refugees is another reason the madness of the situation here in Calais — and in Greece and Italy and Libya, etc., etc., etc. — needs to stop. The governments of Europe are complicit in compounding the mental injuries sustained by refugees who are in their care or who seek freedom but are being obstructed on their way.

We need tents. We need shoes. We need sleeping bags. We need boxer shorts. We need funds. We need so many things. But above all we need change. Please write to your politicians (counsellors, MPs, MEPs, etc.), phone them, tweet them, and call on them to use their influence to help care for the people who are caught here in Calais.

Further reading

H. Young, ‘Refugees and mental health: ‘These people are stronger than us’’ (14/09/15) on The Guardian

A. Abbott, ‘The mental-health crisis among migrants’ (10/10/16) on Nature

F. Oswald, ‘Are refugees in Europe facing a mental health crisis?’ (22/03/17) on Aljazeera

‘Migrants and refugees in Greece facing a mental health emergency — aid agencies’ (27/10/17) on UNTV

M. Welander, Twelve Months On (Oct. 2017) for Refugee Rights Data Project

Z. Leroy, ‘“Comment ne pas devenir fou ?” A Calais, des migrants en détresse psychologique’ (09/02/18) on FranceSoir

A. Guillard, ‘Migrants à Calais : « La majorité des gens en souffrance psychologique »’ (02/04/18) on Le Monde

Credits: originally posted on Luke at This; CRS photo: Domenjod