Characteristics of trafficked adults and children with severe mental illness: a historical cohort study

Sian Oram, Mizanur Khondoker, Melanie Abas, Matthew Broadbent, Louise M. Howard

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70 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Evidence regarding the mental health needs of trafficked people is limited; however, prevalence of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder is high among trafficked people who are in contact with shelter services. We aimed to investigate the sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of trafficked people with severe mental illness. 

Methods: We did a historical cohort study of trafficked people in contact with secondary mental health services in South London, UK, between Jan 1, 2006, and July 31, 2012. We searched and retrieved comprehensive clinical electronic health records for over 200 000 patients from the Case Register Interactive Search database to identify trafficked patients. A matched cohort of non-trafficked adults was generated by simple computer-generated random selection of potential controls for each case within the parameters of matching criteria. We extracted data on sociodemographic and clinical characteristics and abuse history, and used multiple imputation to deal with missing data. We fitted logistic regression models to compare trafficked and non-trafficked patients. 

Findings: We identified 133 trafficked patients, including 37 children. 78 (81%) of 96 adults and 25 (68%) of 37 children were female. 19 (51%) of 37 children were trafficked for sexual exploitation. Among both adults and children, the most commonly recorded diagnoses were post-traumatic stress disorder, severe stress, or adjustment disorder (27 adults [28%] and ten children [27%]) and affective disorders (33 adults [34%] and ten children [27%]). Records documented childhood physical or sexual abuse among trafficked adults (41 [43%]) and children (28 [76%]), and adulthood abuse among trafficked adults (58 [60%]). Trafficked adults were more likely to be compulsorily admitted as a psychiatric inpatient than non-trafficked adults (adjusted odds ratio 7.61, 95% CI 2.18-26.60; p=0.002) and had longer admissions (1.48, 1.01-2.15; p=0.045). No association was found between trafficking status and either adverse pathway into care (adjusted odds ratio 0.91, 95% CI 0.40-2.05; p=0.82) or substance misuse problems (0.55, 0.27-1.17; p=0.12). 

Interpretation: Severe mental illness in trafficked people is associated with longer admissions and high levels of abuse before and after trafficking. Evidence is needed on the effectiveness of interventions to promote recovery for this vulnerable group.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1084-1091
Number of pages8
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Issue number12
Early online date17 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

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