Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis: The Prevalence of Mental Illness in Child and Adolescent Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Rebecca Blackmore, Kylie Gray, Jacqueline A. Boyle, Mina Fazel, Sanjeeva Ranasinha, Grace Fitzgerald, Marie Misso, Melanie Gibson-Helm

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Over half of the world's refugee population are under the age of 18 years. This systematic review aims to summarise the current body of evidence for the prevalence of mental illness in child and adolescent refugee populations. METHOD: Eight electronic databases, grey literature, and Google Scholar were searched for articles from 1 January 2003 to 5 February 2018. Strict inclusion criteria regarding the diagnosis of mental illness were imposed. Study quality was assessed using a template according to study design, and study heterogeneity using I2 statistic. Random effects meta-analyses results were presented given heterogeneity among studies. The protocol for this systematic review was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42016046349). RESULTS: Eight studies were eligible, involving 779 child and adolescent refugees and asylum seekers, with studies conducted in five countries. The overall prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was 22.71% (95% CI 12.79-32.64), depression 13.81% (95% CI 5.96-21.67), and anxiety disorders 15.77% (95% CI 8.04-23.50). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was 8.6% (1.08-16.12) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was 1.69% (95% CI -0.78 - 4.16). Due to high heterogeneity, further subgroup analyses were conducted. CONCLUSION: Refugee and asylum seeker children have high rates of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Without the serious commitment by health and resettlement services to provide early support to promote mental health, these findings suggest a high proportion of refugee children are at risk of educational disadvantage and poor social integration in host communities, potentially affecting their life course.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Nov 2019


  • adolescent
  • child
  • mental illness
  • refugee
  • Systematic Review

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