Mental health of detained asylum seekers

Lancet. 2003 Nov 22;362(9397):1721-3. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)14846-5.


Asylum seekers arriving in the USA are likely to be held in detention for months or years pending adjudication of their asylum claims. We interviewed 70 asylum seekers detained in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We used self-report questionnaires to assess symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. At baseline, 54 (77%) participants had clinically significant symptoms of anxiety, 60 (86%) of depression, and 35 (50%) of post-traumatic stress disorder; all symptoms were significantly correlated with length of detention (p=0.004, 0.017, and 0.019, respectively). At follow-up, participants who had been released had marked reductions in all psychological symptoms, but those still detained were more distressed than at baseline. Our findings suggest detention of asylum seekers exacerbates psychological symptoms.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Emigration and Immigration / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Government Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services
  • Needs Assessment
  • Refugees / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • United States