Prevalence of psychiatric disorders among refugees and migrants in immigration detention: systematic review with meta-analysis

BJPsych Open

Irina Verhülsdonk, Mona Shahab & Marc Molendijk


Background: The number of forced migrants is increasing worldwide. Some governments detain refugees and migrants in immigration detention centres, which is associated with adverse mental health outcomes.

Aims: To estimate prevalence rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in child and adult refugees and migrants in immigration detention.

Method: Pre-registered systematic review with meta-analysis (Prospero ID: CRD42020196078).

Results: Systematic searches in Medline, Embase and Web of Science (final search date 1 October 2020) yielded nine eligible studies on the mental health of detained refugees and migrants (total n = 630 refugees and migrants, 522 of them in detention, among which 26 were children). For adults, prevalence rates for depression were 68% (95% CI 0.53–0.83%), for anxiety 54% (95% CI 0.36–0.72%) and for PTSD 42% (95% CI 0.22–0.63%). Theoretical comparisons with data from other meta-analyses revealed that prevalence rates and symptom severity were higher in detained, relative to non-detained samples.

Conclusions: Our data show a huge burden of mental health problems in detained refugees and migrants of all ages, also relative to non-detained samples. This suggests that immigration detention independently and adversely affects the mental health of refugees and migrants. This insight should encourage countries to minimise the use of immigration detention and implement alternative measures instead.

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