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Prevalence and co-existence of morbidity of posttraumatic stress and functional impairment among Burundian refugee children and their parents

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journal contribution
posted on 28.11.2019 by Florian Scharpf, Edna Kyaruzi, Markus A. Landolt, Tobias Hecker

Background: Although the family constitutes the prime source of risk and resilience for the well-being of children growing up in adverse conditions, the mental health of children living in refugee camps has rarely been investigated in conjunction with their parents’ mental health.

Objectives: To examine the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems among Burundian refugee children and their parents living in Tanzanian refugee camps and to identify patterns of comorbidity among children and their parents based on PTSD symptom levels and functional impairment.

Methods: We recruited a representative sample of 230 children aged 7–15 years and both of their parents (n = 690) and conducted separate structured clinical interviews. Latent Class Analysis was applied to identify patterns of comorbidity.

Results: Children and parents were exposed to multiple traumatic event types. In total, 5.7% of children fulfilled DSM-5 criteria for PTSD in the past month and 10.9% reported enhanced levels of other mental health problems. 42.6% indicated clinically significant functional impairment due to PTSD symptoms. PTSD prevalence was higher among mothers (32.6%) and fathers (29.1%). Latent Class Analysis (LCA) revealed a familial accumulation of PTSD symptoms as children with high symptom levels and impairment were likely to live in families with two traumatized parents.

Conclusions: Although the number of children who need support for trauma-related mental health problems was relatively low, taking into account parental trauma could aid to identify at-risk children with elevated PTSD symptom levels and impairment even in the face of existing barriers to mental health care access for children in refugee camp settings (e.g. lack of targeted services, prioritization of managing daily stressors).


This work was supported by the North-South Cooperation of the University of Zurich [F-63212-13-01].