On an ice-cold day in January, clinical psychologist Emily Holmes picked up a stack of empty diaries and went down to Stockholm’s central train station in search of refugees. She didn’t have to look hard. Crowds of lost-looking young people were milling around the concourse, in clothes too flimsy for the freezing air. “It struck me hard to see how thin some of the young men were,” she says.
Holmes, who works at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, was seeking help with her research—a pilot project on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is all too common in refugees. She wanted to see whether they would be willing to spend a week noting down any flashbacks—fragmented memories of a trauma that rush unbidden into the mind and torment those with PTSD. She easily found volunteers. And when they returned the diaries, Holmes was shocked to see that they reported an average of two a day—many more than the PTSD sufferers she routinely dealt with. “My heart went out to them,” she says. “They managed to travel thousands of kilometres to find their way to safety with this level of symptoms.”