After the last almost two years of upheaval brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, we likely all have a better understanding of the potentially deeply distressing impact of uncertainty on our mental state.

When forced to flee for your life and your future and that of your family, one constant in the experience surely is uncertainty. 

It seems almost unnecessary to point out that people facing this level of uncertainty and instability, who have been forced to leave their home country, are at particularly high risk of developing serious mental health problems. 

The conditions that have forced people into seeking asylum, the perilous journeys they have taken and the precarious position people often find themselves in – even when their journey has ended – all put enormous pressure on the human mental and emotional state.


According to the UK Refugee Council, 61% of asylum seekers and refugees experience serious mental distress.

The WHO has found that, across the world, those who need to seek asylum and those who become refugees consistently experience higher rates of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder than their host population. 

In conflict-affected areas, 22% of people have mental health conditions which is almost three times as high as those who aren’t living in conflict conditions.

Factors leading to mental health problems: before, during, and after

Violence, extreme poverty, and persecution are common factors that force people to flee. These are in themselves highly stressful if not traumatising. The losses people experience alone place enormous strain on mental health. 

Often this is combined with the witnessing of traumatic events. Such conditions can lead to a long-lasting state of trauma and emotional distress.

During the journey to a place of safety, people can and often do face life-threatening conditions and gut-wrenching choices, violence, detention, and a continuous lack of provision of basic needs. 

Family members can become separated from one another which damages one of the few remaining sources of support. Children are particularly vulnerable to developing depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and behavioural problems when they are separated from their families. 

Even once people find themselves relatively settled in a new host country, a range of factors can continue to cause a high level of stress. This could be a lack of stability and certainty, racism, xenophobia or tension within the new community, lack of work or school options, difficulties learning a new language and culture, and the threat of detention or deportation.

The importance of mental health support

We human beings can be extraordinarily resilient. With the support and under the right conditions we have proven we can overcome terrible trauma.

Improvements in the lives of people who have had to undertake such perilous journeys can go a long way to helping with mental health problems. 

A sense of greater safety increased social and financial stability, and increasing language skills all contribute to better mental health. For children, better access to education, community and family contact, and improved mental health of their parents or other family members, all help.

Improving access to mental healthcare for all of us, but especially the most vulnerable among us is essential. With community outreach and cooperation across all sectors, we can get more people the support and care we all need to thrive.

Written By Clara Lewis