Secondary psychotic features in refugees diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder: a retrospective cohort study

Mette Nygaard, Charlotte Sonne & Jessica Carlsson

BMC Psychiatry (2017) 17: 5. DOI:10.1186/s12888-016-1166-1


Background: A substantial amount of refugees (10–30%) suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In Denmark there are different facilities specialised in psychiatric treatment of trauma-affected refugees. A previously published case report from such a facility in Denmark shows that some patients suffer from secondary psychotic symptoms alongside their PTSD.

The aim of this study was to illustrate the characteristics and estimate the prevalence of psychotic features in a clinical population of trauma-affected refugees with PTSD.

Methods: Psychiatric records from 220 consecutive patients at Competence Centre for Transcultural Psychiatry (CTP) were examined, and all the PTSD patients were divided into two groups; one group with secondary psychotic features (PTSD-SP group) and one without (PTSD group). A categorisation and description of the secondary psychotic features was undertaken.

Results: One hundred eighty-one patients were diagnosed with PTSD among which psychotic symptoms were identified in 74 (40.9, 95% CI 33.7–48.1%). The majority of symptoms identified were auditory hallucinations (66.2%) and persecutory delusions (50.0%). There were significantly more patients diagnosed with enduring personality change after catastrophic experience in the PTSD-SP group than in the PTSD group (P = 0.009). Furthermore the PTSD-SP group included significantly more patients exposed to torture (P = 0.001) and imprisonment (P = 0.005).

Conclusion: This study provides an estimation of PTSD-SP prevalence in a clinical refugee population with PTSD. The study points to the difficulties distinguishing psychotic features from flashbacks and the authors call for attention to psychotic features in PTSD patients in order to improve documentation and understanding of the disorder.

Keywords: Complex PTSD, Psychotic symptoms, PTSD, PTSD-SP, Refugees


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