Limited research exists on pain and especially the co-occurrence of pain and mental ill health in general refugee populations. The present study aimed to approximate the prevalence of chronic pain (CP) among adult refugees from Syria resettled in Norway; investigate the association between CP and mental ill health; and explore how CP and mental ill health associate with both perceived general health and functional impairment. Gender as potential effect modifier in these associations was also examined.
Cross-sectional, postal survey questionnaire. Inclusion criteria: ≥ 18 years old; refugee from Syria; and arrived in Norway between 2015 and 2017. Study sample was randomly drawn from full population registries, and n = 902 participated (participation rate ≈10%). CP was measured with 10 items on pain lasting for ≥ 3 consecutive months last year. Symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD were measured with the HSCL and HTQ scales, respectively. Ordered and binomial logistic regressions were used in analyses. Gender was tested as effect modifier with Wald test for interaction.
In the sample overall, the proportion of participants who reported severe CP was 43.1%. There was strong evidence that anxiety, depression and PTSD were associated with higher levels of CP. In fully adjusted regression models, including both CP and mental health variables, CP was strongly associated with poor perceived general health whereas mental health showed much weaker associations. The association between mental health (anxiety and PTSD) and functional impairment was highly gender specific, with strong associations in men but not in women. CP was strongly associated with functional impairment with no difference across gender.
The study shows a high burden of CP in a general population of adult refugees from Syria with likely substantial adverse consequences for daily functioning. The strong association between CP and mental ill health suggests personnel working with refugees’ health should be attuned to their co-occurrence as both problems may need to be addressed for either to be effectively mitigated. A clear mismatch exists between the burden on health caused by pain in general refugee populations and the amount of available evidence to guide mitigating strategies.