How does context influence the delivery of mental health interventions for asylum seekers and refugees in low- and middle-income countries? A qualitative systematic review

Sohail Jannesari*, Claudia Lotito, Giulia Turrini, Siân Oram, Corrado Barbui

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) host the majority of the world’s refugees. Evidence suggests that refugees and asylum seekers have high mental health needs compared to the host country population. However, they face many social, economic and culture barriers to receiving mental health care and benefitting from mental health interventions. This paper examines how these contextual factors affect the implementation of mental health interventions for refugees and asylum seekers in LMICs. Methods: We conducted a qualitative systematic review searching 11 databases and 24 relevant government and non-governmental organisation (NGO) websites. We spoke with academic experts and NGO professionals for recommendations, and conducted forwards and backwards citation tracking. Results: From 2055 records in abstract and title screening, and then 99 in full-text screening, 18 eligible studies were identified. Qualitative thematic synthesis was conducted on eligible papers. Three main thematic clusters were identified around: (1) support during a time of pressure and insecurity, and the need for intervention flexibility through facilitator and participant autonomy; (2) different cultural conceptions of mental health, and how interventions negotiated these differences; and (3) the importance of facilitator skills, knowledge, characteristics and relationships to intervention implementation. Conclusion: Evidence suggests that intervention coordinators and developers should continue to: (1) think broadly about the range of social influences on mental health, addressing structural issues where possible; (2) offer flexibility with intervention style, content and timings; and (3) encourage building research capacity in LMICs while acknowledging pre-existing mental health knowledge and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number80
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Context
  • Interventions
  • Low- and middle-income countries
  • Mental health
  • Systematic review

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