Open Access Open Badges Research article

Forced residential mobility and social support: impacts on psychiatric disorders among Somali migrants

Kamaldeep Bhui1*, Salaad Mohamud1, Nasir Warfa1, Sarah Curtis2, Stephen Stansfeld1 and Tom Craig3

Author affiliations

1 Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts & The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK

2 University of Durham, Durham,UK

3 Institute of Psychiatry, King's, College London, London, UK

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2012, 12:4  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-12-4

Published: 17 April 2012



Somali migrants fleeing the civil war in their country face punishing journeys, the loss of homes, possessions, and bereavement. On arrival in the host country they encounter poverty, hostility, and residential instability which may also undermine their mental health.


An in-depth and semi-structured interview was used to gather detailed accommodation histories for a five year period from 142 Somali migrants recruited in community venues and primary care. Post-codes were verified and geo-mapped to calculate characteristics of residential location including deprivation indices, the number of moves and the distances between residential moves. We asked about the reasons for changing accommodation, perceived discrimination, asylum status, traumatic experiences, social support, employment and demographic factors. These factors were assessed alongside characteristics of residential mobility as correlates of ICD-10 psychiatric disorders.


Those who were forced to move homes were more likely to have an ICD-10 psychiatric disorder (OR = 2.64, 1.16-5.98, p = 0.02) compared with those moving through their own choice. A lower risk of psychiatric disorders was found for people with larger friendship networks (0.35, 0.14-0.84, p = 0.02), for those with more confiding emotional support (0.42, 0.18-1.0, p = 0.05), and for those who had not moved during the study period (OR = 0.21, 0.07-0.62, p = 0.01).


Forced residential mobility is a risk factor for psychiatric disorder; social support may contribute to resilience against psychiatric disorders associated with residential mobility.