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From Australia: Prolonged Immigration Detention Puts Detainees At Higher Risk Of Mental Illness

January 18, 2010

via the Australian Medical Association:

Asylum seekers and other detainees who are held in Australian immigration detention centres for long periods of time are more likely to require medical attention for mental health problems than those detained for a shorter time, according to the results of research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Prof Kathy Eagar, Professor of Health Services Research and Director of the Centre for Health Service Development at the University of Wollongong, and her co-author conducted an analysis of the health records of 720 people in detention in the 2005-06 financial year.

The analysis showed that both the reason for, and time in, detention had a significant effect on the rate of new mental health problems among detainees, with a significantly higher rate of mental health problems in those arriving in unauthorised boats seeking asylum and those detained for more than 24 months compared with those who were released within three months.

Prof Eagar said that, overall, the incidence of a range of health problems among detainees also varied by reason for, and time in, detention, with the highest rate of new health problems recorded in those designated as asylum seekers (unauthorised boat and air arrivals) and detained for more than 24 months.

The most common types of problems included dental and respiratory conditions, and lacerations. Among those detained for more than a year, mental health, social and musculoskeletal problems were common.

“The health of people in immigration detention has attracted considerable attention,” Prof Eagar said.

“In particular, there is almost universal criticism of the policy of detaining asylum seekers, particularly in terms of the mental health implications.”

In an accompanying editorial in the MJA, Dr Christine Phillips, Senior Lecturer in General Practice and Community Health at the Australian National University, writes that this is the largest Australian study of the health of people who have been in detention.

“The evidence is growing that asylum seekers are likely to be those most psychologically damaged by immigration detention, and that their children are particularly vulnerable,” Dr Phillips said.

“There is a good case to be made on health grounds that immigration detention should be used in very limited ways for asylum seekers, and never for children.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 18, 2010 2:00 pm

    We can infer from Dr. Phillips’ conclusion that the physical and emotional aspects of detention itself can be considered a trauma, due to the psychological aspects of confinement and isolation. This is a comparable reality to the one in the U.S. This is also not that different from from many other forms of confinement, whether it’s in the realm of civil commitment or criminal imprisonment. Trapped environments are the perfect breeding grounds for the development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or other forms of Anxiety Disorders. In more severe cases we can see the development of Psychotic Disorders.

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