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In the past few years, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of forcibly displaced migrants worldwide, of which a substantial proportion is refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees and asylum seekers may experience high levels of psychological distress, and show high rates of mental health conditions. It is therefore timely and particularly relevant to assess whether current evidence supports the provision of psychosocial interventions for this population. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the efficacy and acceptability of psychosocial interventions compared with control conditions (treatment as usual/no treatment, waiting list, psychological placebo) aimed at reducing mental health problems in distressed refugees and asylum seekers.
We used Cochrane procedures for conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs. We searched for published and unpublished RCTs assessing the efficacy and acceptability of psychosocial interventions in adults and children asylum seekers and refugees with psychological distress. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive and anxiety symptoms at post-intervention were the primary outcomes. Secondary outcomes include: PTSD, depressive and anxiety symptoms at follow-up, functioning, quality of life and dropouts due to any reason.
We included 26 studies with 1959 participants. Meta-analysis of RCTs revealed that psychosocial interventions have a clinically significant beneficial effect on PTSD (standardised mean difference [SMD] = −0.71; 95% confidence interval [CI] −1.01 to −0.41; I2 = 83%; 95% CI 78–88; 20 studies, 1370 participants; moderate quality evidence), depression (SMD = −1.02; 95% CI −1.52 to −0.51; I2 = 89%; 95% CI 82–93; 12 studies, 844 participants; moderate quality evidence) and anxiety outcomes (SMD = −1.05; 95% CI −1.55 to −0.56; I2 = 87%; 95% CI 79–92; 11 studies, 815 participants; moderate quality evidence). This beneficial effect was maintained at 1 month or longer follow-up, which is extremely important for populations exposed to ongoing post-migration stressors. For the other secondary outcomes, we identified a non-significant trend in favour of psychosocial interventions. Most evidence supported interventions based on cognitive behavioural therapies with a trauma-focused component. Limitations of this review include the limited number of studies collected, with a relatively low total number of participants, and the limited available data for positive outcomes like functioning and quality of life.
Considering the epidemiological relevance of psychological distress and mental health conditions in refugees and asylum seekers, and in view of the existing data on the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions, these interventions should be routinely made available as part of the health care of distressed refugees and asylum seekers. Evidence-based guidelines and implementation packages should be developed accordingly.
The aim of this feasibility trial was to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of the locally adapted Group Problem Management Plus (PM+) intervention for women in the conflict affected settings in Swat, Pakistan.
This mixed-methods study incorporated a quantitative component consisting of a two arm cluster randomised controlled feasibility trial, and qualitative evaluation of the acceptability of the Group PM+ to a range of stakeholder groups. For the quantitative component, on average from each of the 20 Lady Health Workers (LHWs) catchment area (20 clusters), six women were screened and recruited for the trial with score of >2 on the General Health Questionnaire and score of >16 on the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule. These LHW clusters were randomised on a 1 : 1 allocation ratio using a computer-based software through a simple randomisation method to the Group PM+ intervention or Enhanced Usual Care. The Group PM+ intervention consisted of five weekly sessions of 2 h duration delivered by local non-specialist females under supervision. The primary outcome was individual psychological distress, measured by levels of anxiety and depression on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale at 7th week after baseline. Secondary outcomes include symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), general psychological profile, levels of functioning and generalised psychological distress. Intervention acceptability was explored through in-depth interviews.
The results show that lay-helpers with no prior mental health experience can be trained to achieve the desired competency to successfully deliver the intervention in community settings under supervision. There was a good intervention uptake, with Group PM+ considered useful by participants, their families and lay-helpers. The outcome evaluation, which was not based on a large enough study to identify statistically significant results, indicated statistically significant improvements in depression, anxiety, general psychological profile and functioning. The PTSD symptoms and depressive disorder scores showed a trend in favour of the intervention.
This trial showed robust acceptance in the local settings with delivery by non-specialists under supervision by local trained females. The trial paves the way for further adaptation and exploration of the outcomes through larger-scale implementation and definitive randomised controlled trials in the local settings.
Previous research indicates a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among refugees. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective treatment for PTSD for victims of natural disasters, car accidents or other traumatic events. The current study examined the effect of EMDR on symptoms of PTSD and depression by comparing the treatment with a wait-list control condition in Syrian refugees.
Adult refugees located in Kilis Refugee Camp at the Turkish–Syrian border with a PTSD diagnosis were randomly allocated to either EMDR (n = 37) or wait-list control (n = 33) conditions. All participants were assessed with the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview Plus at pre-intervention, at 1 week after finishing the intervention and at 5 weeks after finishing the intervention. The main outcome measures were the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) and the Impact of Event Scale-Revised. The Beck Depression Inventory and the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist-25 were included as secondary outcome measures. The Trial Registration no. is NCT01847742.
Mixed-model analyses adjusted for the baseline scores indicated a significant effect of group at post-treatment indicating that the EMDR therapy group showed a significantly larger reduction of PTSD symptoms as assessed with the HTQ. Similar findings were found on the other outcome measures. There was no effect of time or group × time interaction on any measure, showing that the difference between the groups at the post-treatment was maintained to the 5-week follow-up.
EMDR may be effective in reducing PTSD and depression symptoms among Syrian refugees with PTSD located in a refugee camp.
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