Topic: Forced migration and refugee health

Should we talk about mental health. A pilot study of attitudes to mental health and subjective treatment needs in newly arrived refugees from Ukraine

Michelsen, H., Nissen, A., & Ottesen, A. (2023). "Skal vi snakke om psykisk helse": En pilotstudie av opplevd hjelpebehov og holdninger til psykisk helse hos Ukrainske flyktninger [Should we talk about mental health. A pilot study of attitudes to mental health and subjective treatment needs in newly arrived refugees from Ukraine] Norwegian only. Nasjonalt kunnskapssenter om vold og traumatisk stress. (Rapport 2).

To provide adequate mental health services to refugees after arrival to Norway, we must be able to assess mental health and stress related problems. However, evidence-based knowledge about mental health needs and service use in newly arrived refugee and asylum seekers to Norway is lacking.

We have conducted a pilot study which aimed at investigating both different recruitment strategies for research on mental health in newly arrived refugees from the Ukraine, and whether early screening of mental health and psychological reactions was perceived as meaningful and relevant by the refugees themselves. In addition, the pilot explored attitudes towards and knowledge of mental health related issues. 


The pilot used a mix of quantitative, qualitative, and ethnographic methods. We collected quantitative data from adult (>18 years) refugees from Ukraine who had arrived in Norway in 2022. 

We recruited through both social media and venue-based method at 2 reception centers. The digital questionnaire assessed psychological reactions and treatment needs after arrival in Norway, help-seeking behavior, useful information channels and mental health literacy. The semistructured qualitative interviews (N=4) explored attitudes towards mental health assessment of children among adult refugees who arrived in Norway with children under 16 years of age.  

Main findings

A total of 91 people completed the questionnaire (11 men; 90% 18–50 years). Participants who answered our questionnaire through venue-based method had significantly less education than those recruited through social media. Over half felt the need for help with psychological reactions after arrival in Norway, but only 30% of these had received any offer of mental health care. 

More than 70% did not know where they could seek help for mental health care needs. The parents thatwere interviewed were mostly positive to mental health assessment of their children. Many of the people we talked to said that they wished to talk to somebody about their psychological reactions but mentioned that the term “mental health” may alienate people from using relevant services. 

Through ethnographic methods we gained valuable insight into possible research recruitment strategies, mental health needs, preferred methods of treatment provision, and barriers to talking about mental health. 


It is necessary to apply mixed methods and flexible recruitment strategies to recruit representative samples of refugees to mental health research. Our preliminary impression after conducting this pilot is that this group of refugees have an expressed need and wish to talk about their psychological reactions to war and flight shortly after arrival. Our findings are important in the planning of larger studies on assessment of psychosocial needs in newly arrived refugees from Ukraine.