Stop detaining asylum seekers with a mental illness, urges Royal College of Psychiatrists

Online news
18 April 2021

Asylum seekers with a mental illness should not be held in immigration detention centres as they can cause a significant deterioration in mental health and increase the risk of suicide, says a new report published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists

MPs have until Thursday to oppose new regulations which will make it easier for the government to detain people who have been exploited and trafficked into the country, despite them being more likely to have a mental illness because of the harm they have been subjected to. 

The report says that detention is likely to lead to a significant deterioration in the mental health of all detainees, but those with a pre-existing mental illness or those who have been subjected to trauma, sexual violence and gender-based violence are at particular risk.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on the government to allow potential detainees with a mental illness to remain in the community so they can access the treatment they need from the NHS. People already detained who need to leave the detention centre for mental health support should not be returned to the centre as conditions make it impossible for detainees to receive the ongoing care they need to make a full recovery.

Professor Cornelius Katona, lead author of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ position paper, said:

“The perilous conditions of immigration detention centres are putting a vulnerable group of people at a much-increased risk of worsening mental health and suicide.
“The government must stop detaining asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking with a mental illness and allow them to receive the support they need, either in the community or in an inpatient setting. 
“Staff working in these centres must also be trained in identifying the early signs of a mental illness and on safeguarding detainees with limited decision-making capacity.”

Asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking are more likely than the general population to have a mental illness, with many having significant symptoms of anxiety and depression alongside Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), largely due to the traumatic events they have suffered and the losses they have experienced by leaving their country of origin.

PTSD symptoms are likely to be aggravated by detention, triggering reminders of the original trauma. This is especially true for asylum seekers who have previously been detained, kept in isolation, tortured, or trafficked.

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Asylum seekers must be able to access the mental health support they need but cannot do so when housed in detention centres. 
“They need access to mental health services and the full range of treatment options available on the NHS, which can only happen if they’re supported in the community. 
“Many have been subjected to horrifying events which are only compounded by immigration detention centres. The government must end the practice of detaining mentally ill asylum seekers."

Professor Katona will be speaking at an event in Parliament, on Tuesday 20th April, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention to brief MPs and Peers about the need to find alternatives to detention for people suffering from a mental illness.

RCPsych Position Statement on detention of people with mental disorders in immigration removal centres

People in Immigration Removal Centres are more vulnerable to mental illness because of the environment that they are being held in and the traumatic experiences that they have often experienced in their life. Our Position Statement makes clear that irrespective of their immigration status, they must be provided with the best care for the condition possible.
Read our Position Statement

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