Somatization and traumatic events in asylum seekers and refugees resettled in Italy

Lorenzo Tarsitani 1, Liliana Todini 1, Valentina Roselli 1, Riccardo Serra 1, Valentina Magliocchetti 1, Dunia D’Amore 1, Bianca Della Rocca 1, Massimo Pasquini 1, Paola Massetti 2, Massimo Biondi 1

1 Department of Human Neurosciences, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy; 2 Department of Public Health and Infectious Diseases, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

Objectives

Individuals who experienced a forced migration, such as asylum seekers and refugees, are at elevated risk of trauma-related psychological and somatic distress as compared to non-migrated counterparts. The relationship between traumatic events and somatization is poorly explored in this population. We aimed to assess the impact of traumatic events on somatization and the possible link with stress-related vulnerability in a sample of asylum seekers and refugees.

Methods

Asylum seekers and refugees referring to the Day Service of Migration Medicine of the Umberto I Hospital for routine screening of infectious diseases were consecutively recruited. The following instruments were administered: ad hoc questionnaire for the collection of socio-demographic and migratory variables, Somatic Symptom Scale 8 (SSS-8), Life Events Check List (LEC-5), Stress-related Vulnerability Scale (SVS). 

Results

Eighty-five subjects were included (males = 80, 94%; mean age = 28.3; SD = 7.4). The mean score of SSS-8 was 5.3 (SD = 5.9), with 68% of participants reporting at least one clinically significant somatic symptom. The mean LEC-5 total score was very high (9.8; SD 3.2). Bivariate correlations among SSS-8 total score, LEC-5 total score and SVS Lack of Social Support subscale score were, respectively: r= 0.347 (p = 0.002), r = 0.539 (p < 0.001). Multivariate analyses confirmed the correlation between SSS-8 total score, LEC-5 total score (β = 0.491; p = 0.01) and SVS Lack of Social Support subscale (β = 1.236; p < 0.001) to be significant over and above sociodemographic and migration-related confounders. 

Conclusions

Medically unexplained somatic symptoms were associated with the number of lifetime traumatic events and with post-migratory perceived lack of social support in asylum seekers and refugees.

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