In recent days the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) have all spoken out about the mental health of children held in detention.
The APS President Professor Mike Kyrios stated that “Psychologists will be extremely concerned at the report’s findings, in particular that 34% of children in detention centres had mental health disorders of sufficient seriousness that if they were living in the Australian community they would require treatment. Less than 2% of children in the Australian community have such high levels of mental ill-health.”
The RANZCP released a position statement which says “Detention is detrimental to development and mental health and has the potential to cause long-term damage.” It also stated that “Unaccompanied minors and families with children are particularly vulnerable. Detention should only ever be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.”
The RANZP President Dr Murray Patton says that “the preferable length of time in detention for a child who is undergoing health and safety checks is less than 72 hours. This is quite a contrast to the 14 months reported recently.”
In August 2014 psychiatrist Dr Peter Young was featured as part of a story on the ABC’s Lateline claiming that there had been a coverup of damning statistics about the mental health of children in detention. He said that there are a large number of children with significant mental distress and disorder, with some children having tried to poison themselves or ingest harmful substances. Members of the RANZCP commended Dr Young for speaking out about the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru, Christmas and Manus Islands.
The President of the Paediatrics and Child Health Division (PCHD) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Dr Nicki Murdock said that the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report “The Forgotten Children clearly and articulately describes the devastating and long lasting harms being inflicted on children.” She also stated that “I and my colleagues take offence at their expertise and neutrality being questioned and undermined, and we are disappointed and frustrated that many have rejected the report’s findings.”
An open letter of support from Dr Murdock to Prof Gillian Triggs can be found here.
RACP President Professor Nick Talley expressed support for Prof Gillian Triggs and said “the government needs to act now and release all children from immigration detention in order to protect them from serious and potentially life-long harm.”
The RACGP President Dr Frank Jones has said that “GPs working in the community are dealing with the ongoing health effects of detention on a daily basis and are particularly concerned for children, who will carry this impact throughout their lives. The RACGP is calling for an end to mandatory restrictive detention as soon as possible on humanitarian grounds. The RACGP also backs the commission’s recommendation that an independent guardian be appointed for unaccompanied asylum seeker children.”
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Image: Takver – flickr