Australian researchers have identified a mental health syndrome they say is unique to asylum seekers living in the community.
Protracted asylum seeker syndrome is affecting people outside detention who have repeatedly had their applications for refugee status rejected, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Congress in Hobart has been told.
“But it has a collection of other clinical features as well which seem to differentiate and distinguish it from the more typical syndromes that we see in these people.”
An understanding of the condition is only beginning to emerge, but the added symptoms can include an obsession with an asylum claim and swings between hopelessness and optimism about the outcome.
Sufferers can also experience brief psychotic episodes and confusion about their identity.
The discovery comes from the most detailed Australian study yet of the mental health of asylum seekers living in the community.
It found rates of mental illness were “extraordinarily high”, but many community-based asylum seekers did improve over time, in contrast to those in detention.
Those whose applications for refugee status were repeatedly rejected, however, were damaged further by the experience.
“These individuals come with a very strong and severe history of trauma and that contributes to mental disorder,” Assoc Prof Sundram said.
“But then the refugee determination process and the stresses of living in Australia exacerbate and contribute to and make worse their mental disorder.”
He said asylum seekers faced racism, uncertainty and a lack of support services, as well as difficulty in producing the documentary evidence needed for their claim.
“They have great difficulty in proving or demonstrating their story or their experiences of past trauma,” he said.
“They find that very traumatising and very painful.”
Treating the syndrome was difficult while they remained trapped in the system, he said.
A mental health service for asylum seekers should be funded instead of detention centres, Prof Sundram said.
As first appeared in ninemsn.com, 22 May 2012