Migration as a determinant in the development of children emotional and behavior problems: a quantitative study for Lisbon Region, Portugal

Zélia Muggli, Thierry Mertens, Silva Sá, Regina Amado, Ana Lúcia Teixeira, Dora Vaz, MR Martins

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The role of migration as a determinant in child mental health has been demonstrated in a number of studies. However, results are not always consistent, and the research continues to be scarce, especially in Portugal. We examined the association between sociodemographic profiles and the chance for the development of emotional and behavioral difficulties in a group of 420 children, immigrant (n = 217) and born in Portugal to Portuguese born parents (n = 203). We used a structured questionnaire to obtain sociodemographic information and the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Descriptive statistics were used to characterize children and their families; variables were compared between groups using the Chi-squared, Fisher’s Exact Test, or the Mann–Whitney U test and logistic regression was used to analyze the association between socio-demographic factors and emotional and behavioral difficulties. Results showed a pattern of social and mental health inequalities with immigrant children at a disadvantage: they are more often part of families with low income and where parents had low skilled jobs. Internalizing behaviors are more frequent in immigrants than in children born in Portugal to Portuguese-born parents (p = 0.001) whereas a high total SDQ difficulties score (p = 0.039) and externalizing behaviors were more frequent in 1st generation immigrant children (p = 0.009). A low family income (aOR 4.5; 95% CI: 1.43–13.95), low parental education level (aOR 2.5; 95% CI: 1.11–5.16), and being a first-generation immigrant child (aOR 2.2; 95% CI: 1.06–4.76) increased significantly the chance of developing emotional and behavioral difficulties. This study contributes to the identification of children vulnerable to mental health problems who can benefit from monitoring, early detection and preventive interventions in order to mitigate possible negative outcomes in the future
Original languageEnglish
Article number375
Pages (from-to)375-389
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2021


  • child mental health
  • externalizing behaviors
  • internalizing behaviors
  • migration
  • social determinants
  • strengths and difficulties questionnaire


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