Design, setting and subjects: An analysis of the health records of 720 of the 7375 people in detention in the financial year 1 July 2005 – 30 June 2006, with oversampling of those detained for > 3 months.
Main outcome measures: Health encounters and health condition categories; estimated incidence rates of new health conditions, new mental health conditions, and new injuries for each cohort (defined by time in, and reason for, detention).
Results: People in detention had an estimated 1.2 (95% CI, 1.18–1.27) health encounters per person-week. Those detained for > 24 months had particularly poor health, both mental and physical. Asylum seekers had more health problems than other people in detention. The main health problems varied depending on the length of time in detention, but included dental, mental health, and musculoskeletal problems, and lacerations. Both time in, and reason for, detention were significantly related to the rate of new mental health problems (P = 0.018 and P < 0.001, respectively). The relationship between these variables and the incidence rates of physical health problems was more complex.
Conclusion: People in immigration detention are frequent users of health services, and there is a clear association between time in detention and rates of mental illness. Government policies internationally should be informed by evidence from studies of the health of this marginalised and often traumatised group.
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