Psychological trauma and access to primary healthcare for people from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds: A mixed methods systematic review

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    Background: Several reviews have found that psychological trauma affects access to health care services, including mental health care, in the general population. People from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds are more likely to have a mental illness than the general population, and experience a broad range of barriers and facilitators to service access. However, to date there has been no comprehensive consideration of the potential effect of psychological trauma on access to primary health care within this population. Methods: This paper provides a mixed-methods systematic review of literature which included any consideration of the relationship between psychological trauma and access to primary health care. A systematic search of Medline, PsychInfo, Scopus, Web of Science, Embase, CINAHL and Cochrane Library was conducted. Study eligibility criteria were empirical, peer-reviewed studies that considered the relationship between psychological trauma and access to, or use of, primary healthcare in resettlement countries for refugees (including asylum seekers). Papers were required to be written in English and published between 1998 and August 2019. Quality was assessed using the Multi-Methods Appraisal Tool. The search identified a total of 14 eligible studies (11 quantitative and 3 qualitative) which had explored this relationship in refugee and asylum seeker populations. Results: Overall, synthesis of findings indicated variable results with respect to the impact of psychological trauma on service access. Specifically, the review found that while rates of psychological trauma were high. Key themes were that while general health care access was comparable or greater than the general population, rates of mental healthcare specifically were low. In addition, included papers identified a range of barriers to service access - particularly somatisation, stigma and healthcare provide knowledge about psychological trauma. Conclusions: While there is a critical need for more research in this area, the study points to several key recommendations including training of general practitioners in relation to psychological trauma, ensuring culturally responsive services, and the use of interpreters. Finally, due to the levels of somatisation found in some studies, ensuring general practitioners understand the somatic element of psychological trauma - particularly within some groups of people from refugee backgrounds - is important.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number71
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Systems
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2020

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    Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.


    • Asylum seekers
    • Healthcare access
    • Refugees
    • Systematic review
    • Trauma
    • CIDI-WHO: Composite International Diagnostic Interview-World Health Organisation
    • HSC: Hopkins Symptom Checklist
    • HTQ: Harvard Trauma Questionnaire
    • MMAT: Multi-Method Appraisal Tool
    • PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    • UNHCR: United Nations High Commission for Refugees


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