Psychiatric symptoms associated with brief detention of adult asylum seekers in Canada

Cleveland, J.; Rousseau, C. (2013)

The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

58(7) | 409-416

To examine the association between brief detention and psychiatric symptom levels among adult asylum seekers.

The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire and the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist-25 were used to assess psychiatric symptoms and premigration trauma exposure in 122 detained and 66 nondetained adult asylum seekers in Montreal and Toronto.

After a mean detention of 31 days, the proportion of asylum seekers scoring above clinical cutpoints was significantly higher in the detained than the nondetained group for posttraumatic stress (X2 = 4.117, df = 1, P = 0.04), depression (X2 = 13.813, df = 1, P < 0.001), and anxiety (X2 = 4.567, df = 1, P = 0.03) symptoms. Hierarchical multiple regression models showed that posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety symptom levels were significantly higher among detained asylum seekers than among the nondetained comparison group, taking into account previous trauma and demographics. Incremental Fwas significant for the addition of detention status for all 3 models, indicating that detention contributed to increased symptom levels.

For asylum seekers, even brief detention is associated with increased psychiatric symptoms. Governments should consider the many viable alternatives to incarceration of asylum seekers, such as temporary placement in a supervised residential facility, to minimize the risks of psychological harm to this vulnerable population.