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Original Research

Psychological Distress and Common Mental Disorders Among Immigrants: Results From the Israeli-Based Component of the World Mental Health Survey

Julia Mirsky, PhD; Robert Kohn, MD, MPhil; Itzhak Levav, MD, MSc; Alexander Grinshpoon, MD, PhD, MHA; and Alexander M. Ponizovsky, MD, PhD

Published: November 30, 2008

Article Abstract

Background: The Israel National Health Survey (INHS), the local component of the World Mental Health Survey, was designed to estimate the prevalence rates of common mental disorders and psychological distress in the total adult population. This report focuses on the immigrant population and explores 2 alternative hypotheses about the association between migration and psychiatric morbidity–the migration-morbidity hypothesis and the healthy-immigrant hypothesis.

Method: The INHS included face-to-face interviews, conducted from May 2003 to April 2004, with 2114 Israeli-born Jewish respondents and 844 post-1990 immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU). Psychological distress was measured with the 12-item General Health Questionnaire, and psychiatric disorders were diagnosed with the World Mental Health version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview.

Results: Psychological distress among FSU immigrants was significantly higher than among their Israeli-born counterparts for both genders. Twelve-month prevalence rates of common mental disorders were generally higher in the FSU group of immigrants than in the comparison group (any disorder: men, 9.5% vs. 8.7%, OR = 1.57 [95% CI = 1.44 to 1.71]; women, 12.5% vs. 9.5%, OR = 1.42 [95% CI = 1.33 to 1.53] and mood disorders: men, 5.6% vs. 4.4%, OR = 1.37 [95% CI = 1.27 to 1.54]; women, 8.6% vs. 7.3%, OR = 1.17 [95% CI = 1.07 to 1.28]).

Conclusion: The findings, which generally support the migration-morbidity hypothesis, are discussed in light of the nonselective migration policy implemented in Israel. Additional factors such as length of residence in the host country, immigration circumstances, and ethnicity are associated with immigrants’ mental health and need further investigation.

Volume: 69

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