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Response to the Department of Health and Social Care consultation on mental health and wellbeing

Kamena Dorling

The consultation paper rightly identifies that risks of mental ill-health are higher among “people who have experienced displacement, including refugees and asylum seekers” and “people who have experienced trauma as the result of violence or abuse”. Refugees, people seeking asylum and survivors of trafficking are more likely to have specific healthcare needs as a result of their experiences of torture, exploitation and human rights abuses in their country of origin, or during their journey to the UK, and traumatic bereavements and separations. Mental health problems are highly prevalent among this population as a whole – survivors commonly experience physical health problems including illnesses, conditions and injuries, and also mental health problems, with anxiety, depression and complex post-traumatic disorder being the most prevalent. These problems often worsen once they are in the UK as a result of how they are treated.

Key to improving the wellbeing of this population is acknowledging and addressing the systemic failings that cause them harm from the moment they arrive in the UK. These include delays in decision making; an intrusive and re-traumatising asylum process, particularly the interview; and poor housing and lack of financial support. Uncertain immigration status and a feeling of helplessness and living in limbo, whilst also being unable to access employment or education opportunities, can have a significant negative impact on mental health. 

There are numerous points in the asylum and trafficking systems where the physical and mental health of people seeking protection is worsened by the system we have in place. An approach to improving well being and addressing mental health can only be achieved through a cross-departmental approach that aims to address all factors that worsen mental health as well as helping individuals to respond to health problems. Such an approach would look at ways to improve the treatment of people seeking asylum and survivors of trafficking through, for example, better housing and financial support; a more responsive and trauma-informed asylum system that generates quick but fair decisions and an approach that prioritises welcome, integration and the ability to work.

This consultation response suggests a range of further ways in which the UK should respond to the mental health needs of refugees and survivors of trafficking.