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Psychological Distress and the Asylum Process: A Longitudinal Study of Forced Migrants in Ireland

Ryan, Dermot A. PhD; Benson, Ciarán A. PhD; Dooley, Barbara A. PhD

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: January 2008 - Volume 196 - Issue 1 - p 37-45
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31815fa51c
Original Article

Although asylum seeking has become a major political issue in the Western world, research on its psychological impact is still in its infancy. This study examined levels and predictors of distress among a community sample of persons who have sought asylum in Ireland. A key aim was to provide a longitudinal analysis of the relationship between legal status security and psychological distress. Distress was measured by the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised at Time 1 (N = 162) and its shorter version (the Brief Symptom Inventory) at Time 2 (N = 70). Levels of severe distress were high at both baseline (46%) and follow-up (36%). The only persons to show a decrease in distress were those who had obtained a secure legal status (e.g., refugee status or residency) between the study phases. Distress risk factors included female gender, an insecure legal status, separation from children, discrimination, and postmigration stress. Protective factors were social support (Time 1) and the presence of a partner. The findings suggest that asylum seekers are a high-risk group for distress. This risk can be reduced by appropriate policy changes and interventions to increase social resources.

School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.

Supported by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the School of Psychology, UCD.

Send reprint requests to Dermot A. Ryan, PhD, School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. E-mail:

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.