International Mental Health Day: The Experience of Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Oct 10, 2022

4 Minute Read

Challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees – Newsha N

“Refugees, asylum seekers, we all struggle with identity when we come here, we don’t know who we are, what we are going to do…for asylum seekers, we haven’t been accepted yet, we have no right to work, we are struggling with basic rights, and we have no identity either. I don’t think it is just asylum seekers, it is every migrant in a new place, a new country and they struggle with their identity but for asylum seekers, it is a shock but not a cultural one. You realise “where am I?”

“When I came here, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety because I had several panic attacks. I never used to have them, and it was new to me, I couldn’t understand what was happening. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed and referred but after 8 months, I am still on a waiting list. Finding a supportive organisation is very, very difficult here. Even when support is given, it is mostly for refugees not asylum seekers. When you’re struggling with depression and anxiety, the number of unsuccessful phone calls, broken promises of call backs, is exhausting.

“Also financially, asylum seekers face additional challenges. 80, 90% of asylum seekers would work if given the chance but they don’t have this so they face financial problems. But they don’t want to be in this situation, they want to work.

“I think the first thing the ACAA is really successful at, is reducing isolation. If you want to eat something more traditional, learn a language, day by day the volunteering, always speaking English and learning new words, everything comes together and makes it better.”

Refugee and Asylum Seeker Mental Health

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was themed around loneliness and this International Mental Health Day campaigns for ‘Mental Health Care for All’. Research suggests that refugees are 5 times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population, 61% experience some form of mental distress, and 88.5% are psychologically vulnerable.[1][2]

Each individual’s challenges are unique but there are often shared experiences that contribute to the deterioration of the mental health of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. In 2015, The Forum, highlighted a variety of challenges that impact their wellbeing and quality of life:

  • “Loss of family and friends
  • Lack of social networks
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of access to services and resources
  • Loss of status
  • Loss of identity
  • Loss of job or career
  • Cultural differences
  • Discrimination and/or stigma associated with being a refugee
  • Isolation as a result of government policies.” [3]

These are all post-migration experiences and don’t consider prior experiences such as conflict, unemployment, or persecution. They all contribute to a deterioration of mental health so conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression are very common amongst refugees. It is estimated that around 28%, 48%, and 37% of refugees and migrants suffer from these conditions respectively.[4]

Even these diagnoses fail to cover the complexity of many situations. For example, Afghans who were evacuated last summer, left their homes, families, friends, and country during an extremely high stress situation.

The chaos of evacuation, panic as people packed up their lives, fear of the approaching Taliban, and inevitable guilt and grief of leaving behind community, loved ones, and their lives, all alongside the disappointment in a seemingly pointless 20 years and a feeling of abandonment by the international community.

Once they arrived here, they were ‘welcomed’ with abandonment in hotel rooms, inadequate supplies and food, and the isolation in which they had to deal with their evacuation, fall of their country, and subsequent oppression of their people. 14 months later, there are still around 9,000 Afghan refugees stuck in ‘bridging’ hotels with no employment, and few support, language, or education opportunities. [5]


There are several solutions, most important, is the building and support of the community links that are so lacking to those who have left their lives behind. At the ACAA, we provide a variety of these services which are all designed to improve quality of life, reduce isolation, aid integration, empower and support our beneficiaries.

Our Men and Women’s Empowerment Workshops provide a space for our beneficiaries to build relationships, develop skills, and become independent.

Our ESOL for Integration classes teach English with the specific goal of aiding integration, reducing isolation, and building communication skills. Language proficiency is one of the largest obstacles to integration in a new country and studies have found that language acquisition, even to an intermediate rather than fluent level, significantly increased the likelihood of migrants finding employment. [6]

We run cultural events that celebrates Central Asian culture, music, poetry, and food, showcasing the contribution refugees make to British society and standing in defiance of oppression.

Finally, we amplify the voices of our beneficiaries, community, and wider asylum seeker and refugee population in the UK as well as advocating for support to be given to those remaining in their countries.

Written by Newsha N and Zoë Olsen-Groome

[1] [Accessed: 09/10/2022].

[2] ‘Refugees’ Mental Health: 2017 Research Report’, UNHCR (2017). <> [Accessed: 09/10/2022].

[3] Panos Christodoulou et al., ‘This is how it feels to be lonely: A report on migrants and refugees’ experiences with loneliness in London”, Loneliness Report – The Forum. < This is how it feels to be lonely (>  [Accessed: 09/10/2022].

[4] ‘Refugees’ Mental Health’, 2017.

[5] [Accessed: 09/10/2022].

[6] Eva Degler, Thomas Liebig and Anne-Sophie Senner, ‘Integrating Refugees into the Labour Market – Where Does Germany Stand?’, ifo DICE Report 3:15 (2017).

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