Torture survivors’ symptom load compared to chronic pain and psychiatric in-patients


  • Uwe Harlacher Nunca Mas International Network for Human Rights and Psycho-social Response
  • Linda Nordin Lund University, Sweden
  • Peter Barth Polatin George Washington University, Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Boston, MA, USA



functional disability, DRI (Disability Rating Index), HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), traumatized refugees, torture survivors


Before their entry into the rehabilitation program at the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (‘RCT’) in Copenhagen, the degree of symptoms of a group of resettled traumatized refugees was assessed by means of two rating scales: the Disability Rating Index (DRI) (n=197), measuring pain-related functional disability, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) (n=147). The results obtained were compared with other patient populations, which included (1) a large Swedish mixed pain group and (2) various groups of pain patients previously investigated in the validation study of the DRI scale. The DRI scores of the refugee group were comparable to, or higher than, those of the pain groups, except for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. The degree of anxiety and depression was found to be considerably greater in the refugee group than in the pain groups. Another recently published Danish study comparing traumatized refugees with psychiatric in-patients in terms of Health of Nation Outcome Scores (HoNOS) documented a higher degree of psychiatric disability for refugees. Based on the hypothesis that the observed differences in this study were underestimated due to the exclusion of refugees with psychotic symptoms and substance abuse, a partial re-analysis of the data was carried out by calculating effect sizes with and without the items measuring these symptoms. Controlling for the exclusion of the critical items resulted in a more pronounced difference between the refugees and psychiatric inpatients. Based on the data compared in this study, traumatized refugees are shown to suffer from multiple problems, including chronic pain, at a high symptom-level. This challenges prior clinical assumptions that single factors like PTSD can explain all symptoms.


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How to Cite

Harlacher, U., Nordin, L., & Polatin, P. B. (2018). Torture survivors’ symptom load compared to chronic pain and psychiatric in-patients. Torture Journal, 26(2), 11.