Studies throughout Europe have shown that asylum-seeking children and adolescents (ASC) are at risk of developing mental disorders. The most common mental-health problems in ASC include posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), internalizing symptoms such as depression and anxiety, and externalizing behaviour. Being an unaccompanied refugee minor (URM) was found to be highly predictive for higher levels of psychological distress within ASC. Nevertheless, and even though Germany is Europe’s biggest host country for ASC, studies that reliably examine the mental health of both URM and accompanied refugee minors (ARM) in Germany with psychometrically tested measures are still lacking.
A cross-sectional survey in 19 facilities for minor refugees in Bavaria, Germany, screening for PTSS, depression, anxiety, externalizing behaviour, and post-migration factors was conducted. Participants were 98 ASC (URM, n = 68; ARM, n = 30) primarily from Afghanistan, Syria, and Eritrea. In 35.7% of interviews, interpreters were involved.
Both URM and ARM reported high levels of psychological distress and large numbers of potentially traumatic events, with 64.7% of URM and 36.7% of ARM scoring above the clinical cut-off for PTSS, 42.6% of URM and 30% of ARM for depression, and 38.2% of URM and 23.3% of ARM for anxiety. The total number of traumatic experiences was found to be the most robust predictor for PTSS, depression, and anxiety. Lower levels of individual resources, lower levels of social support in the host country, and poorer German language proficiency were associated with higher levels of psychological distress within both groups. URM reported significantly more traumatic events than ARM.
ASC in Germany are severely distressed and burdened by the experiences of various types of potentially traumatic events. The levels of distress found in the current study correspond with rates that have been reported in previous studies with ASC throughout Europe. Limitations of the present study include the convenience sample and the cross-sectional nature of findings.