***Warning: The following article marks World Suicide Prevention Month, which takes place every September. As such it contains themes of death, self-harm and severe mental health issues. Please take care, and do not read on, if you might find this too difficult. If you are an LGBTQI+ person seeking asylum and would like to access emotional support, please contact us.


This World Suicide Prevention Month we want to shed light on the mental health crisis in immigration detention. People seeking asylum, or going through our immigration system, can be held in detention without warning, and without knowing when they will be released. Being taken away from friends and family, and held in prison-like conditions, significantly impacts a person’s physical and mental health. In fact, since 2000, 30 people have died by suicide whilst in immigration detention in the UK.   

In Colnbrook detention centre there were 41 recorded incidents of self-harm and 14 people were under constant watch for self-harm between September 2021 and February 2022. 25% of the people held there in 2021-22 said they felt suicidal, and more than three quarters were depressed, according to a report by His Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons. That same report identified there had been insufficient safeguards against placing people who were suicidal in detention.   

These problems are not new. In 2018, The Guardian reported that on average, 2 people per day attempt suicide whilst in immigration detention. In late 2020, after the government announced charter flights would remove people to other countries, the risk of suicide in immigration detention rose to “unprecedented levels” at Brooke House detention centre, according to its Independent Monitoring Board.  

Current government policy is having a similar effect. Earlier this month, Medical Justice, an organisation which supports the health and legal rights of people in immigration detention, warned that this government’s policy to send people arriving in the UK to Rwanda is damaging people’s health whilst in detention. Their evidence shows the threat of removal has exacerbated anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and caused fear, uncertainty, and loss of hope. It has also lessened some people’s resilience to existing trauma. For some, this means an increased likelihood of self-harm and suicide.  

LGBTQI+ people in detention are especially at risk. Many will have fled persecution and are already trying to cope with experiences of trauma from their past. In detention, they are forced to relive that trauma and to do so completely alone, without specialist support. Many then experience LGBTQI-phobic bullying and abuse in detention, which compounds their existing trauma. Often, they try to hide that they are LGBTQI+ in order to stay safe. It’s reminiscent of the situation from which they have fled. This all has a huge impact on their mental health and can drive many to self-harm and suicide. 

That these centres are particularly damaging for LGBTQI+ people, is highlighted in our joint report with Stonewall, No Safe Refuge. The people we spoke to stressed the deterioration of their mental health whilst in detention. Many self-harmed, couldn’t sleep, or stopped eating. Some attempted suicide and knew of other people in detention who died by suicide.  


“I would have preferred to take my own life than be in here. 

It is so painful to be stigmatised and unable to disclose my identity. 

You would prefer to be anywhere than this cage of darkness.” 

 Mukasa from Uganda, No Safe Refuge 


It is clear these centres are not safe for anyone. Being detained puts many people who are often already traumatised, at even greater risk of poor mental health and suicide. This is especially true for LGBTQI+ people for the reasons set out above.  

Moreover, no-one should be held in immigration detention without knowing when they’ll be released. The uncertainty of indefinite detention is a huge part of what makes it so damaging. Research shows that mental health worsens the longer the period of detention. As the government’s own guidance states that 28 days is long enough to decide whether a person should be removed from the UK, it is wrong to detain anyone longer than this. 

That’s why we’re campaigning for an end to LGBTQI+ detention and a time limit on all detention. You can support us now by signing your name here.  

There is #NoPrideInDetention.