Kurds have poorer psychological health than Swedes

Published 2008-12-02 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:24

[PRESS RELEASE 1 December 2008] Kurds who live in Sweden but were born abroad experience poorer psychological and physical health than persons born and raised in Sweden according to a new doctoral dissertation from Karolinska Institutet. Researcher Marina Taloyan explains that many Kurds in Sweden lack a sense of freedom, feel they are not in charge of their own lives, and are worried about the political situation in their home country. Primary health care has an important role to play in providing assistance and support.

Poor psychological well-being, pain, gastrointestinal complaints, worry, and anxiety are everyday experiences for many foreign-born Kurds in Sweden. This is one of the findings described in the Karolinska Institutet doctoral dissertation "Health, migration, and quality of life among Kurdish immigrants in Sweden." There are approximately 50,000 to 60,000 Kurds in Sweden today and most came here for political reasons.

The researcher behind the dissertation, Marina Taloyan of the Center for Family and Community Medicine in Stockholm, is not surprised by the results:

Marina Taloyan
Marina TaloyanPhoto: CeFAM

"The rate of ill health is high among all immigrants, and many Kurds are in a particularly vulnerable situation. Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without their own state, and many have had traumatic experiences. New living circumstances and a feeling of powerlessness in Sweden also mean that many feel that they are not a part of the new society."

Marina Taloyan has investigated the association between ethnicity, migration, and self-reported health among Kurds born outside Sweden, comparing their self-reported health to that of native-born Swedes. She looked at a representative sample of 214 Kurdish and 2819 Swedish men and women between 27 and 60 years old. To learn more about the life journeys of the Kurds, she interviewed a number of Kurdish men in greater detail.

The dissertation shows that twice as many Kurds as Swedes report that their general health is poor, and that the Kurds experience poor psychological well-being. They have anxiety, gastrointestinal complaints, and musculoskeletal pain more often than Swedes. The situation is consistently worst in Kurdish women.

Researchers believe that the explanation of differences is complex and multifactorial. Important factors that affect health in Kurds include situations and experiences before and after migration. Many of those who experience poor health report that they don't feel free, experience discrimination, and feel they are not in charge of their own lives. Other factors that play an important roll include subjection to violence before migration, feeling worried about the political situation in their home country, and feeling worried about their children's future. The results of the interviews also showed that the greater the feeling of freedom and belonging that the migrants experienced in the new country, the lower the risk of reporting poor health. For some, it is comparatively easy to create a positive new life; for others, more difficult. And some can't make a new start. In these situations, primary health and psychiatric care personnel have a key roll to play in providing assistance and support.

"It's important for health care personnel to be aware of these factors when they meet patients from countries with political instability and persecution," says Taloyan.

She notes that we need more information about health in Kurdish migrants over their life course - both before and after migration - to help them and other groups in similar situations before they fall into deep or acute crisis.

"This is the first study about health in Kurds from Turkey living in Sweden. It would be interesting to learn more, such as why Kurdish women experience poor health. One way to do this would be to interview them about their life experiences before and after migration."


Marina Taloyan

Health, migration and quality of life among kurdish immigrants in Sweden

Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, CeFAM, Karolinska Institutet

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