The problem of increasing number of refugees and IDPs is one that we are facing more often in recent times. As wars rage across the world, millions of people are forced to flee their regions and assume refugee status in a new country, or become IDPs.
In January 1999, it was estimated that there were 50 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Of these, only 23 million were protected and assisted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The current lack of international consensus over legal definitions deprives the remaining 27 million people of the same support . Although the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for IDPs estimates that there are 20-25 million IDPs, figures as high as 30 million have been quoted.
It is estimated that 5 million of these refugees were already suffering some mental disorder prior to the war or calamity and another 5 million had suffered some psychosocial dysfunction. Since accurate figures are not available, these estimates are only approximations, but it is quite likely that a substantial proportion of refugees present mental health problems that range from chronic mental disorders to trauma, distress and mental suffering.
The effects of war, torture, and disaster on the mental health problem of refugees are manifested in several ways, including adjustment problems, depression, anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The stressful condition of a refugee could even worsen any underlying mental disorders such as psychotic illnesses.
There have been many studies on refugees and populations in exile to assess their mental health problems. Studies have been done in countries where refugees have settled and also in conflict areas.
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