COVID-19 and Mental Health Among People Who Are Forcibly Displaced: The Role of Socioeconomic Insecurity

Yael Blay Benzaken, Shani Zohar, Kim Yuval, Anna Aizik-Reebs, Solomon Gebreyohanes Gebremariam, Amit Bernstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: Forcibly displaced persons may be at elevated risk for poor mental health outcomes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study sought to examine associations between COVID-19-related socioeconomic insecurity and mental health outcomes among asylum seekers. METHODS: The authors evaluated the association between the degree of food, housing, and income insecurity related to the pandemic and mental health outcomes among East African asylum seekers in a high-risk, postdisplacement setting in the Middle East (i.e., Israel). RESULTS: Anxiety symptom severity (p=0.03) as well as the rate of suicidal ideation among women (odds ratio [OR]=2.81, p=0.016) were significantly elevated in a community sample of asylum seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic (N=66) relative to a similar sample (N=158) from the same community and context assessed before the pandemic. No differences between the two groups were observed for severity or rate of probable depression or posttraumatic stress disorders. In addition, among the sample assessed during the pandemic, socioeconomic insecurity due to the pandemic was strongly associated with elevated symptom severity and probable anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorders as well as suicidal ideation (R2 range=0.19-0.35; OR range=4.54-5.46). CONCLUSIONS: Findings are consistent with growing evidence of a mental health crisis among asylum seekers that is linked to COVID-19 control policies and residential status policies. The results highlight the risk for suicidal ideation linked to intersectional marginalization among female asylum seekers. These findings may inform postdisplacement policy making, social justice advocacy, humanitarian aid, and clinical science and practice to mitigate poor mental health outcomes associated with COVID-19 among forcibly displaced persons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-165
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatric Services
Volume74
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2023

Keywords

  • Asylum seekers
  • COVID-19
  • Food insecurity
  • Forced displacement
  • Housing insecurity
  • Mental health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)

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