Psychological distress amongst immigration detainees: a cross-sectional questionnaire study

Br J Clin Psychol. 2009 Sep;48(Pt 3):275-86. doi: 10.1348/014466508X397007. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


Objectives: To compare levels of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amongst immigration detainees with a comparison group of asylum seekers living within the community.

Design: A cross-sectional questionnaire study.

Methods: Sixty-seven detained asylum seekers, 30 detainees who had previously been imprisoned within the UK for criminal offences, and 49 asylum seekers living in the community completed the hospital anxiety and depression scale (HADS) and the impact of event scale-revised (IES-R). Demographic information was collected.

Results: High levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms were reported by all three groups. Detained asylum seekers had higher scores than asylum seekers living within the community for depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. There was an interaction between length of detention period and prior exposure to interpersonal trauma (IP trauma) on depression scores.

Conclusions: Immigration detainees are highly vulnerable to psychological distress. A review of detention policies is recommended in light of this. Immigration detention may have an independent adverse effect on mental health. It is also possible that individuals with mental health problems may be more likely to be detained. Further research is required to investigate this.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Emigration and Immigration / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prisoners / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Policy*
  • Refugees / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology