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Mugambwa, Kashung Annie; Lutchmun, Wandini; Gach, Janina; Bader, Carolin; Froeschl, Guenter (2023): Mental health of people with limited access to health services: a retrospective study of patients attending a humanitarian clinic network in Germany in 2021. BMC Psychiatry, 23 (1). ISSN 1471-244X

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Germany has a statutory health insurance system. However, a substantial part of the population still suffers from limited access to regular health services. While humanitarian organizations are partially filling this gap, people with limited access show a high prevalence of mental disorders. This study investigates the prevalence, and social determinants of mental disorders in patients attending the clinics of a humanitarian health network in three major cities in Germany, as well as perceived barriers to healthcare access in this population.

We performed a descriptive, retrospective study of individuals attending the outpatient clinics of the humanitarian organization Ärzte der Welt, in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, in 2021. Medico-administrative data was collected using a digital questionnaire at first presentation to the clinics. We report the prevalence of both perceived altered mental health and diagnosed mental disorders, as well as the perceived barriers to healthcare access in this population. We performed a logistic regression analysis to identify the socio-demographic factors associated with mental disorders.

Our study population consisted of 1,071 first presenters to the clinics in 2021. The median age at presentation was 32 years and 57.2% of the population were male. 81.8% experienced a form of homelessness, 40% originated from non-EU countries and only 12.4% had regular statutory health insurance. 101 (9.4%) patients had a diagnosed mental disorder. In addition, 128 (11.9%) patients reported feeling depressed, 99 (9.2%) reported a lack of interest in daily activities, and 134 (12.5%) lacked emotional support in situations of need on most days. The most reported barrier to accessing health services was high health expenses, reported by 61.3% of patients.In the bivariate logistic regression analysis age, insurance status and region of origin were significantly associated with mental disorders. In the multivariable analysis, only age groups 20–39 and 40–59 years remained significant.

People with limited access to regular health services have a high need for mental health services. As a chronic condition, this is even more difficult to manage outside of regular services, where humanitarian clinics are only filling the gap in serving basic health needs.

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