Mental health of unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents previously held in British detention centres

Kimberly A. Ehntholt*, David Trickey, Jean Harris Hendriks, Hannah Chambers, Mark Scott, William Yule

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: To investigate whether the mental health of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) was negatively affected by having their ages disputed and being detained. Method: Participants within this cross-sectional study were 35 UASC, aged between 13 and 17 when they were detained. Some years later, a team of child mental health professionals interviewed them to assess their current mental health and to determine, as far as possible, the impact that having their age disputed and being detained may have had on their mental health. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-IV), Reactions of Adolescents to Traumatic Stress (RATS), Stressful Life Events (SLE) and Detention Experiences Checklist–UK version (DEC-UK) were administered. Results: The vast majority of UASC reported being negatively affected. Based on diagnostic interviews using the SCID-IV, self-report measures and contemporaneous records, the professionals reported a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) developing in 29% (n = 10), PTSD exacerbated in 51% (n = 18), major depressive disorder (MDD) developing in 23% (n = 8) and MDD exacerbated in 40% (n = 14). A total of 3 years post-detention, 89% (n = 31) met diagnostic criteria for psychiatric disorders and reported high PTSD symptoms. Conclusion: There was a high prevalence of psychiatric disorder. The additional stress of age dispute procedures and detention was judged to have been harmful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-257
Number of pages20
JournalClinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number2
Early online date22 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Asylum seekers
  • immigration detention
  • PTSD
  • refugees
  • unaccompanied minors


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