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Mental health morbidity among people subject to immigration detention in the UK: a feasibility study

  • P. Sen (a1), J. Arugnanaseelan (a1), E. Connell (a2), C. Katona (a3), A. A. Khan (a2), P. Moran (a4), K. Robjant (a3), K. Slade (a5), J. Tan (a1), K. Widyaratna (a1), J. Youd (a1) and A. Forrester (a6)...

The UK has one of the largest systems of immigration detention in Europe.. Those detained include asylum-seekers and foreign national prisoners, groups with a higher prevalence of mental health vulnerabilities compared with the general population. In light of little published research on the mental health status of detainees in immigration removal centres (IRCs), the primary aim of this study was to explore whether it was feasible to conduct psychiatric research in such a setting. A secondary aim was to compare the mental health of those seeking asylum with the rest of the detainees.


Cross-sectional study with simple random sampling followed by opportunistic sampling. Exclusion criteria included inadequate knowledge of English and European Union nationality. Six validated tools were used to screen for mental health disorders including developmental disorders like Personality Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Intellectual Disability, as well as for needs assessment. These were the MINI v6, SAPAS, AQ-10, ASRS, LDSQ and CANFOR. Demographic data were obtained using a participant demographic sheet. Researchers were trained in the use of the screening battery and inter-rater reliability assessed by joint ratings.


A total of 101 subjects were interviewed. Overall response rate was 39%. The most prevalent screened mental disorder was depression (52.5%), followed by personality disorder (34.7%) and post-traumatic stress disorder (20.8%). 21.8% were at moderate to high suicidal risk. 14.9 and 13.9% screened positive for ASD and ADHD, respectively. The greatest unmet needs were in the areas of intimate relationships (76.2%), psychological distress (72.3%) and sexual expression (71.3%). Overall presence of mental disorder was comparable with levels found in prisons. The numbers in each group were too small to carry out any further analysis.


It is feasible to undertake a psychiatric morbidity survey in an IRC. Limitations of the study include potential selection bias, use of screening tools, use of single-site study, high refusal rates, the lack of interpreters and lack of women and children in study sample. Future studies should involve the in-reach team to recruit participants and should be run by a steering group consisting of clinicians from the IRC as well as academics.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr P. Sen, Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College, London, UK. (Email:
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