Summary PDF: What works to improve mental health of refugee children and adults?

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   Health, Mental Health and Wellness


What works to improve mental health of refugee children and adults?

There is very strong evidence that numerous interventions are effective in improving the mental health of child and adult refugees. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), trauma-focused interventions (TF), and psycho-education (PE) have been shown to improve symptoms related to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and/or general distress in refugee populations. Furthermore, cultural adaptations of these interventions yield additional effectiveness over and above their non-adapted counterparts. School-based and group programs for refugee children and high-support living environments for unaccompanied minors have been shown to improve children’s mental health. A number of additional interventions for refugee adults and children have inconclusive effects or moderate support. Finally, digital technologies including telehealth, online interventions, and video games show promising results for increasing access to care as well as improving outcomes.

Post TitleStrength of EvidenceType of StudyDirection of Evidence
Efficacy of Psychological Interventions on Depression Anxiety and Somatization in Migrants: A Meta-analysisStrongMeta-analysisInconclusive or mixed impact
Imagery rehearsal therapy and/or mianserin in treatment of refugees diagnosed with PTSD: Results from a randomized controlled trialModerateImpact evaluationNo impact
Mental health services designed for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnics (BAME) in the UK: a scoping review of case studiesStrongSystematic reviewPositive impact
Narrative exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsStrongMeta-analysisInconclusive or mixed impact
The effectiveness of adapted psychological interventions for people from ethnic minority groups: A systematic review and conceptual typologyStrongSystematic reviewPositive impact
A meta-analysis of school-based interventions for student refugees, migrants, and immigrantsStrongMeta-analysisPositive impact
Psychological and pharmacological interventions for posttraumatic stress disorder and comorbid mental health problems following complex traumatic events: Systematic review and component network meta-analysis.StrongMeta-analysisPositive impact
Cultural Adaptations of Evidence-Based Mental Health Interventions for Refugees: Implications for Clinical Social WorkSuggestiveLiterature reviewPositive impact
Trauma-focused psychotherapies for post-traumatic stress disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysisStrongMeta-analysisPositive impact
Psychological interventions for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in refugees: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsStrongMeta-analysisPositive impact

Studies included in the database focused on high-income or upper middle-income countries, including but not limited to the United States. Studies included must have been published since 2000. To identify evidence, we searched the following websites and databases using the following population, methodology, and target problem terms:

Websites and Databases Population Terms Methodology Terms Target Problem Terms

Campbell Collaboration Cochrane Collaboration Mathematica Policy Research Evidence Aid
Urban Institute
Migration Policy Institute HHS OPRE
Social Services Abstracts Social Work Abstracts PsycInfo

OR “unaccompanied minor”
“temporary protected status”
“victims of traffick*” OR
“traffick* victims” OR

evaluation OR
OR program
OR intervention OR policy
OR project
OR train*
OR therapy OR treatment OR counseling OR workshop ORreview
OR meta-analysis OR

“mental health” OR
“post-traumatic stress disorder”


For databases or websites that permitted only basic searches, free-text terms and limited term combinations were selected out of the lists above, and all resultant studies were reviewed for relevance. Conversely, for databases or websites with advanced search capability, we made use of relevant filters available. All search terms were searched in the title and abstract fields only in order to exclude studies that made only passing mention of the topic under consideration.  

After initial screening, Switchboard evidence mapping is prioritized as follows: First priority is given to meta-analyses and systematic reviews, followed by individual impact evaluations when no meta-analyses or systematic reviews are available. Evaluations that are rated as impact evidence are considered before those rated as suggestive, with the latter only being included for outcomes where no evidence is available from the former.