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Psychiatry Investig. 2011 Sep;8(3):179-85. doi: 10.4306/pi.2011.8.3.179. Epub 2011 Jul 19.

Prevalence and correlates of psychiatric symptoms in north korean defectors.

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Gachon University of Medicine and Science, Incheon, Korea.



The aim of the present study is to assess the prevalence of psychiatric symptoms and associated factors in North Korean Defectors (NKDs).


One hundred forty-four NKDs (male: 20; female: 124; average age: 40.4±11.7 yrs.) completed the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R) and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CES-D). A stepwise logistic regression analysis was conducted to evaluate factors associated with the psychiatric symptoms of the participants.


NKDs mainly reported somatization (42.4%) and depressive symptoms (38.9%). Female NKDs showed higher prevalence of somatization (p=0.001), anxiety (p=0.020), hostility (p=0.026) and psychoticism (p=0.022) than males. The presence of physical illness was strongly related to most psychiatric symptoms on the SCL-90-R including somatization (p<0.001), obsessive-compulsive symptoms (p=0.020), interpersonal sensitivity (p=0.031), depression (p<0.001), anxiety (p<0.001), hostility (p=0.011), paranoid ideation (p=0.015) and psychoticism (p<0.001). Younger age, unemployment, lower income, and longer duration of defection were found to be the risk factors of psychiatric symptoms. In regard to mental health service utilization, we found that most (83.3%) of the participants had not received any form of psychiatric help.


Somatization and depression were the most prevalent psychiatric symptoms in NKDs. Our results suggest that psychiatric symptoms accompany certain sociodemographic and clinical characteristics that are associated with susceptibility to acculturation stressors. An understanding of these factors will be helpful providing appropriate mental health services to NKDs.


Acculturation; North Korean defectors; Psychiatric symptoms

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