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Br J Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;194(4):306-12. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.108.053223.

Mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers: systematic review.

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Traumatic Stress Service, Clinical Treatment Centre, Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AZ, UK.



The number of asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced people worldwide is rising. Western countries are using increasingly restrictive policies, including the detention of asylum seekers, and there is concern that this is harmful.


To investigate mental health outcomes among adult, child and adolescent immigration detainees.


A systematic review was conducted of studies investigating the impact of immigration detention on the mental health of children, adolescents and adults, identified by a systematic search of databases and a supplementary manual search of references.


Ten studies were identified. All reported high levels of mental health problems in detainees. Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder were commonly reported, as were self-harm and suicidal ideation. Time in detention was positively associated with severity of distress. There is evidence for an initial improvement in mental health occurring subsequent to release, although longitudinal results have shown that the negative impact of detention persists.


This area of research is in its infancy and studies are limited by methodological constraints. Findings consistently report high levels of mental health problems among detainees. There is some evidence to suggest an independent adverse effect of detention on mental health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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