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May 10, 2021

Mental health problems: Is the immigration system to blame?

Lockdowns, isolation, uncertainty, job losses - the pandemic has put enormous pressure on people’s wellbeing. But what about those navigating Britain’s complex immigration system?

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we are highlighting some of the struggles our clients have faced before and during the pandemic, and the resilience of our community.

The immigration system

There are several paths to becoming a permanent resident in the UK, each with its own unique mental health challenges. Asylum seekers are often housed in poor conditions, with only £39 a week to survive off. Others are forced into poverty, homelessness and precariousness, as they face high immigration and legal fees, and cannot access any government support.

“For many of our clients, their mental health is pinned to their immigration status. They face long periods of uncertainty, unable to work or access help, as they wait for the Home Office to let them know if they can stay in the UK. And for some, the impact lasts many years after gaining their status,” explained Christina Zorat, Women Together manager.

Barriers to support

A big feature of the UK’s immigration system is the hostile environment policy – which creates ‘borders’ in all institutions. Whether it is accessing healthcare or renting a room, people are being asked to prove their status. This system is designed to prevent irregular migrants from being able to access the basics of a dignified life. Read more about this here.

The effects of this policy are far and reaching, but one of its effects is that it erodes trust in institutions, where people may not get mental health support out of fear of being detained and deported or being discriminated against.

The pandemic

During the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen a significant rise in demand for emergency support at LRMN, as many sanctuary seekers have lost their jobs, been forced out of their homes, and face delays in Home Office decisions. This has made it harder to access mental health support as they have no privacy, and no money to pay for data to access remote help.

What LRMN offers

LRMN provides support to those in need. We provide experts to talk about mental health issues through our Women Together project, that supports over 40 women with wellbeing group activities and specialist advice.

We also provide a culturally sensitive wellbeing service through our Lewisham Community Wellbeing Service.

We also support a much needed community, where people can get peer support and find specialist advice. Together, we hope to turn their negative experiences of the immigration system into something positive, where they can make friends and be part of the community.

South London Listens

As part of our commitment to making London into a place of sanctuary, we have taken part in the South London Listens campaign to help tackle the mental health impacts of Covid-19, by listening to over 5,000 people in south London and building solutions together. The listening campaign is in partnership with South London and Maudsley foundation, local authorities, Healthwatch, Public Health England, Citizens UK, Black Thrive and other community partners.

As part of this work we listened to our clients and are working towards improving access to mental help support across South London. Find out more here.

Working Together

In every facet of LRMN, we aim to be a positive force for our clients and our communities. It is by working together that we believe we can chip away at some of the harmful impacts of the immigration system and effect change.