This month, we begin the first in a new series of monthly member blogs, in which Mental Health Reform members write about a mental health issue as it relates to the work of their organisation. This month’s blog comes to us from the Irish Refugee Council.
Mental health among asylum seekers in Ireland
Paula Quirke, Information and Referral Service Supervisor
A positive dimension of mental health as defined by the World Health Organisation is a ‘state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’.[i]
Asylum seekers are people who have come to Ireland to seek protection and are awaiting determination of their application for refugee status. Refugees have completed the asylum process and have been granted the protection of the State. These people arrive from diverse countries such as Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and Somalia. Despite the huge difference and diversity within their experiences, they are often seen as a homogeneous group. Government policies that promote the segregation and marginalization of asylum seekers in Ireland leave them faceless, nameless and invisible to the wider public.
Asylum seekers often arrive to Ireland having experienced human rights abuses, violent conflict, torture, sexual and physical violence and/or extreme economic deprivation[ii]. While here, they live in State accommodation known as Direct Provision for considerable amounts of time without the right to work, where food is prepared for them at set times, individuals are forced to share rooms and people often find it difficult to access community supports due to isolation and poverty. Out of 4,806 residents in Direct Provision, 812 people have lived in this institutionalized environment for 4-5 years, 670 for 5-6 years and 397 for 6-7 years.
In addition to the trauma many asylum seekers experience prior to arrival they also have to cope with the normal stresses of exile such as separation from family and community, an unwelcoming host community, language barriers etc. In the absence of the right to work and a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child a week, they have little way to realize their own potential or make a contribution to their community. Struggling in a situation of forced idleness and institutionalized poverty, people often speak of feeling stressed, suffering from anxiety and depression or in more serious cases having suicidal thoughts or self-harming. Often the location of their accommodation makes it difficult to access specialised medical services, such as psychological counselling and the care of survivors of torture provided by Spirasi. Those experiencing mental health difficulties are often prescribed psychiatric medications by their GP to ease the symptoms. Effects of language barriers and a lack of cultural competence in healthcare make it very difficult for asylum seekers to become active participants in their own recovery. The experience of mental health difficulties and challenges faced in recovery are greatly compounded by an absence of social and economic supports such as social inclusion and the right to work.
[i] < http://www.who.int/features/