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

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Over half of the world's refugee population are under the age of 18 years. This systematic review aims to summarize the current body of evidence for the prevalence of mental illness in child and adolescent refugee populations. Method: Eight electronic databases, gray 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 the 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 5 countries. The overall prevalence of posttraumatic 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 to 4.16). Because of the 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 that a high proportion of refugee children are at risk for educational disadvantage and poor social integration in host communities, potentially affecting their life course.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-714
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • mental illness
  • refugee
  • systematic review

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