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Detention, Uncertainty take their Toll on the Mental Health of Refugees

Refugees residing on temporary protection visas (TPVs) are more likely to suffer severe, persistent and wide-ranging mental health problems than those with permanent protection visas (PPVs) // , specialist trauma psychologists and psychiatrists have revealed.

Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are much more severe for TPV holders than for PPV holders, mental health professionals from the Sydney-based Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors and the University of NSW School of Psychiatry revealed in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

In the first study of its kind in Australia, researchers interviewed TPV and PPV holders from similar cultural and language backgrounds who had experienced similar trauma and persecution before seeking refuge.

They found the TPV holders studied had experienced the added stress of being held in immigration detention centres, of having very few of the entitlements of Australian citizens, and of facing an uncertain future.

The cumulative effect meant TPV holders were much more susceptible to mental health problems, said lead author Zachary Steel, a Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at UNSW.

“TPV holders exceeded PPV holders on all measures of psychiatric disturbance and mental disability,” Mr Steel said.

“(Their) TPV status made a substantial contribution, being by far the greatest predictor of PTSD symptoms.

“Adverse prior detention experiences and current living difficulties associated with TPV status each made substantial and independent contributions to PTSD symptoms.

“Our study provides consistent evidence that the migration trajectory experienced by TPV holders, particularly adversity in detention and ongoing living difficulties, is accompanied by persisting and wide-ranging mental health problems and associated disability.”

All TPV holders had been in
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