Mental Health EuropeProviding access to mental health services to migrants and refugees should be seen as a priority, not a luxury, according to a pan-European mental health organisation.

Mental Health Europe (MHE) has said it is “deeply worried” by barriers that may prevent migrants and refugees from accessing much-needed mental health care and support. MHE is further concerned by the current handling of the migration question by the EU, which has failed to address basic humanitarian and protection needs. 

In a recent position paper, MHE explored the human rights, economic and social rationale for providing mental health and psychosocial support to migrants and refugees in Europe and warned member states of the possible consequences of inaction.

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 and more than 300,000 have arrived since January 2016. Many have endured physical and emotional trauma, including torture, loss of loved ones, violence and exploitation. Many organisations on the ground, including MHE members, are warning authorities of the heightened risk of migrants and refugees experiencing mental distress which could lead to mental health problems in the absence of appropriate support. 

Providing quality mental healthcare and support is key to helping migrants and refugees settle in Europe, MHE said. Denying access to mental health care and support today will only lead to future challenges in EU member states tomorrow, it added. The World Health Organization has acknowledged that prevention and early intervention in relation to mental health is cheaper in the long-term. 

“EU Member States need to be reminded that all migrants, irrespective of their status and nationality are entitled to their fundamental rights including the right to access mental health care,” said MHE president, Nigel Henderson.

Psychological reactions and distress experienced by migrants and refugees in response to the challenges they face are completely normal. Many can be supported by social interventions whereas some may need more extensive mental health care or support. However, it needs to be remembered that if mental health support is to be effective it needs to be culturally sensitive, person-centred and accessible.

“Many of them may never have even heard of mental health and wellbeing before, or they might understand it differently or associate it with stigma. They may express fear or other emotions in ways that are unfamiliar to us.” added Henderson.

MHE’s position paper called for: 

A coordinated and human rights-based European response to the current crisis

Culturally appropriate and accessible mental healthcare and support for all migrants and refugees regardless of status

Mental health and cultural training to be provided to all personnel who come into contact with migrants and refugees so that they can identify, understand and support people experiencing mental distress.