Abstract

BACKGROUND Research into the mental health of refugees has burgeoned in recent times, but there is a dearth of studies focusing specifically on the factors associated with psychiatric distress in asylum-seekers who have not been accorded residency status.

METHOD Forty consecutive asylum-seekers attending a community resource centre in Sydney, Australia, were interviewed using structured instruments and questionnaires.

RESULTS Anxiety scores were associated with female gender, poverty, and conflict with immigration officials, while loneliness and boredom were linked with both anxiety and depression. Thirty subjects (79%) had experienced a traumatic event such as witnessing killings, being assaulted, or suffering torture and captivity, and 14 subjects (37%) met full criteria for PTSD. A diagnosis of PTSD was associated with greater exposure to pre-migration trauma, delays in processing refugee applications, difficulties in dealing with immigration officials, obstacles to employment, racial discrimination, and loneliness and boredom.

CONCLUSIONS Although based on correlational data derived from'a convenient' sample, our findings raise the possibility that current procedures for dealing with asylum-seekers may contribute to high levels of stress and psychiatric symptoms in those who have been previously traumatised.