People detained in immigration removal centres (IRCs) in England should be given more mental health support, a new report has said.

Immigration Removal Centres in England: A mental health needs analysis, published by the Centre for Mental Health and commissioned by NHS England, found that all immigration detainees experienced significant distress and many had faced trauma prior to being detained. In addition, the report found that being in immigration detention added to people’s distress and that mental health support varies from one centre to another.

The Centre conducted interviews with staff and detainees and observations at 10 IRCs, which between them held 30,000 people in the year to March 2016. 

The report did find some examples of well-received support, including offers of psychological therapy, wellbeing groups and the support provided by chaplains. But it also found that some detainees didn’t feel listened to or believed when they asked for help. And mental health care staff face significant challenges working in IRCs where people may be removed at short notice and face high levels of uncertainty about their future.

However, the NHS and the Home Office are working together to improve the support available in all IRCs, for example by implementing a ‘stepped care’ model of mental health support and carefully monitoring progress.

The report calls for all IRCs to become psychologically informed: providing all staff with training about mental health and trauma and offering a range of interventions to support the wellbeing of detainees and staff. As well as providing psychological therapies, IRCs should offer alternatives such as relaxation groups and peer support, specialist support for those with the most complex needs and round-the-clock crisis care.

Report author Dr Graham Durcan said: “People held in immigration removal centres face serious challenges to their mental health. Many have been through traumatic events and all face an uncertain future. While not all will have a diagnosable mental illness, most will need some help for their mental health and benefit from interventions to support their wellbeing. At present, such help is patchy and often limited to specialist medical care.

“Our report concludes that IRCs need to be psychologically informed throughout. All staff should be trained in mental health awareness, proven psychological interventions should be offered when people seek help and crisis care should be available 24/7. We welcome NHS England’s commitment to improving mental health support in all IRCs and hope that the stepped care approach will ensure no one is left without the help they need when they need it.”

Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Professor Cornelius Katona, welcomed the report: “The impact of detention on a person’s mental health – especially someone who has experienced significant trauma – cannot be underestimated. We welcome the recommendation that detainees are assessed as early as possible, and that those who are identified as having significant mental health needs are cared for and supported in the right environment – and not subjected to further detention unless there are overwhelming reasons to justify it.

“This is supported by the recommendation that there should be a standardised approach to mental health screening and we urge the Home Office and NHS England to implement this and the report’s other recommendations as quickly as possible. Early and ongoing intervention of this kind will not only nurture the wellbeing of detainees, but may also prevent the development of serious mental illnesses in the future.”