In the first national survey of its kind, University of Minnesota researchers have found that most states do not provide mental health screening for refugees, even though refugee trauma survivors are at increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression.

While many refugees flee war-torn areas, fewer than half of states directly ask refugees about their exposure to war trauma or torture.

The survey was conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the State Refugee Health Coordinator and the Center for Victims of Torture, a St. Paul-based torture survivor rehabilitation center. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies.

Refugee health coordinators at the state level are in need of short, culturally appropriate mental health screening tools to identify refugees who need assessment and treatment, according to Patricia Shannon, one of the co-authors of the study and an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work.

Of the 25 states that provide a mental health screening, 17 use informal conversation rather than standardized measures.

States report that several barriers prevent proper mental health screenings, including lack of culturally sensitive resources and time limitations.

Most refugees have medical coverage through refugee medical assistance or state Medicaid in their first eight months of resettlement, making it imperative that screening and referral for assessment and treatment take place early in the resettlement process.

Early detection of trauma and mental health issues may keep refugees from requiring more costly long-term care down the road, such as Social Security disability, the study found.

In 2010, the United States resettled more than 73,000 refugees from 20 countries. The federal Refugee Act of 1980 entitles newly arrived refugees to a comprehensive health assessment and referral to health services.