Immigrants and persons with foreign background are more reluctant than Finnish-born people to use mental health services. Specially those who have lived in Finland for a short period of time had a particularly low use of psychiatric services.
These are the conclusions of a new study published on Wednesday by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which shows that immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe are particularly the ones who use mental health services less.
The study was based on collected data from immigrants aged 15 years old and more who already lived in Finland at the end of 2010 and from Finnish-born people who had used psychiatric care. Experts also concluded that the longer immigrants had lived in Finland, the more likely they were to use psychiatric services as often as native Finns.
Age influenced in different ways the use of mental health services by Finnish-born people and immigrants. According to THL, Finns do more visits the younger they are, but immigrants rarely used the services for young people (aged 15-30) and for those over 60.
The experts who conducted the study provide several possible explanations for this behavior:
One of the possibilities considered is that immigrants are healthier than those born in Finland and need less psychiatric care.
This may be the case of some groups, but that reason would not be enough to explain it all: for example refugees, due to the experiences they have lived, on average tend to have more psychiatric problems than the population in general, so THL believes it is unlikely that a better Mental health alone fully explain the differences in the use of services.
Other possible causes
THL says the are other possible reasons for the differences observed between Finns and foreign-born population. Some of them may be "the reluctance of immigrants to use psychiatric services, for example because they are afraid of stigma or because they prefer to turn to other types of service". Besides that, there might be other "structural barriers" such us inadequate knowledge of the mental health services, difficulties in accessing them or other linguistic and cultural barriers.
The experts remarked that the reasons behind the differences in the use of services "should be explored in order to improve mental health services to better respond to the needs of immigrants".
The information on the use of psychiatric services was obtained from the registers maintained by THL. The frequency of visits was measured by the number of visits to public specialized psychiatric care. Low frequency was considered to be one to three visits after seeking treatment.