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JAMA. 2003 Aug 6;290(5):635-42.

Factors associated with poor mental health among Guatemalan refugees living in Mexico 20 years after civil conflict.

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  • 1University of Georgia School of Social Work, Athens, GA 30602, USA.



From 1981 to 2001, 46 000 refugees who fled the 36-year civil conflict in Guatemala for Chiapas, Mexico were under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


To estimate the prevalence of mental illness and factors associated with poor mental health of underserved Guatemalan refugee communities located in Chiapas, Mexico, since 1981 and to assess need for mental health services.


Cross-sectional survey of 183 households in 5 Mayan refugee camps in Chiapas representing an estimated 1546 residents (adults and children) conducted November-December 2000.


Symptom criteria of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression as measured by the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire and Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (Hopkins-25).


One adult (aged > or =16 years) per household (n = 170 respondents) who agreed to participate was included in the analysis, representing an estimated 93% of households. All respondents reported experiencing at least 1 traumatic event with a mean of 8.3 traumatic events per individual. Of the respondents, 20 (11.8%) had all symptom criteria for PTSD. Of the 160 who completed the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25, 87 (54.4%) had anxiety symptoms and 62 (38.8%) had symptoms of depression. Witnessing the disappearance of family members (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 4.58; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.35-15.50), being close to death (AOR, 4.19, 95% CI, 1.03-17.00), or living with 9 to 15 persons in the same home (AOR, 3.69; 95% CI, 1.19-11.39) were associated with symptoms of PTSD. There was a protective factor found for lacking sufficient food (AOR, 0.08; 95% CI, 0.01-0.59). Elevated anxiety symptoms were associated with witnessing a massacre (AOR, 10.63; 95% CI, 4.31-26.22), being wounded (AOR, 3.22; 95% CI, 0.95-10.89), and experiencing 7 to 12 traumatic events (AOR, 2.67; 95% CI, 1.14-6.27) and 13 to 19 traumatic events (AOR, 2.26; 95% CI, 0.65-7.89). Elevated symptoms of depression were associated with being a woman (AOR, 3.64; 95% CI, 1.47-9.04), being widowed (AOR, 27.55; 95% CI, 2.54-299.27), being married (AOR, 1.93; 95% CI, 0.59-6.33), witnessing disappearances (AOR, 2.68; 95% CI, 1.16-6.19), experiencing 7 to 12 traumatic events (AOR, 1.57; 95% CI, 0.64-3.88), or experiencing 13 to 19 traumatic events (AOR, 7.44; 95% CI, 2.18-25.37).


Psychiatric morbidity related to human rights violations, traumatic events, and refugee status was common among Guatemalan refugees surveyed 20 years after the Guatemalan civil conflict.

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