Association of Mental Health Providers

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The Mental Health of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The Association welcomes a new report on the Mental Health of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the UK from our partner the Mental Health Foundation.

The report contains extensive evidence on the economic, social, and cultural circumstances that asylum seekers and refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK can face, and how these experiences can harm their mental health and even result in suicidal feelings and actions.

With many having already escaped violence, refugees and asylum seekers face challenging situations upon their arrival to the UK due to anti-refugee or immigration policies and rhetoric, racism, discrimination, and marginalisation. The value of a trauma-informed approach is essential and highlighted in this report in the context of a need for further understanding and support for refugees and asylum seekers who face additional barriers to accessing services and the threat of racism or detention with “an international systematic review found anxiety, depression, and PTSD were commonly reported among detained asylum seekers, as were self-harm and suicidal ideation.”

After arriving in the UK, refugees and asylum seekers face financial and housing difficulties with research from Asylum Matters in 2020, when Asylum Support Allowance was £39.63 per person per week for those in self-catered accommodation, finding that 84% of people did not always have enough money to buy food. Housing was often poor in asylum hotels which were described as “overcrowded, unsanitary, and lacking privacy.”

In 2023, the government began to house people on the Bibby Stockholm barge. Lots of asylum seekers “endured horrific journeys across the water to reach the UK and living in this type of environment puts people at risk of re-traumatisation.” We have also heard of a suicide onboard which illustrated the devastating impact this kind of environment has on people’s mental health, with many simply seeking a safe space to live.

The report outlined barriers to employment including a lack of work experience in the country, language, or cultural differences, and only being able to take up occupations restricted by the government’s Shortage Occupation List. Refugee Council found that most refugees and asylum seekers seek a place of safety and that “90% were working in their country of origin, and very few were aware they would not be allowed to work when they arrived in the UK.” However, the mental health and economic benefits of allowing asylum seekers to work are vast. “In 2023 the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimated that allowing all people seeking asylum the right to work would save the government £6.7 billion a year, increase tax revenue by £1.3 billion, and increase GDP by £1.6 billion” and this would greatly benefit asylum seekers’ wellbeing too.

There are also barriers to accessing education, healthcare, transport, and language support which can leave many refugees and asylum seekers feeling isolated, and missing out on vital services that can benefit their mental and physical health. Racism, discrimination, and hostility experienced by people seeking asylum in the UK exacerbate these difficulties with “a total of 109,843 racially-aggravated offences reported to police in England and Wales in 2021/2022 – an increase of 19% compared to 2020/2021.”

The findings of this research echo what we have been hearing from refugee and asylum-seeking communities as part of our project on understanding their mental health needs and experiences in accessing support on arrival. Mental ill-health is continuing to rise in the UK. Poverty and discrimination are contributing to ever greater numbers of people experiencing mental illness, and impacting the most minoritised communities disproportionately, which includes asylum seekers and refugees.

People with little choice and in need of our help continue to seek sanctuary in the UK and we hope that the government discusses how best to support them in finding a place of safety, compassionately, that values the humanity and contributions of refugees and asylum seekers, using the recommendations set out in this report.

As part of our project, we’re looking for people from refugee and asylum-seeking communities to share their personal testimonies and providers to share case studies of services. Get in touch if you’d like to contribute to this essential project.