Detainees in the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres are suffering from poor mental health, a report has found.
According to the federal government’s latest health briefings, two detainees are placed on suicide watch every three days, with the mental health of detainees deteriorating the longer they remain in detention.
International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) said that between July and December 2015, the practice of supportive monitoring and engagement (SME), a 24-hour suicide surveillance strategy, was put in place 124 times in offshore detention centres. While subject to the procedure, asylum seekers are monitored at a highly close level, which latest reports indicate has proven invasive and distressing for asylum seekers.
Gemille Cribb, from Equilibrium Psychology Sydney, believes the surveillor/patient relationship is critical to the operation of the SME program, with a lack of rapport contributing to the worsening of health. “The detainee could feel punished or further victimised and their stress and trauma could increase,” she said.
Approximately 66 people are believed to have been placed on SME, with most of these individuals having attempted self harm or to take their own life. Nearly 40 detainees have been put on a high or imminent suicide watch category.
“Suicidality has a contagious aspect to it where, when one person has an attempt, it can spark others around them to adopt this dysfunctional coping style,” Ms Cribb said.
Ms Cribb also believes hopelessness and the inability to regulate distress may be key factors in explaining offshore detention centre suicide attempt rates. “The longer they are detained with no sense of plan or progress towards a future the more hopeless they will feel and the more they will consider that ending their life is a better choice,” she said. “If the detainees are not being helped with any ways of soothing themselves or processing the experiences they have been through in a supportive environment, they may turn to self-harm as a way of ‘releasing’ their emotional suffering through physical pain.”
Increasing rates of anxiety, distress and depression are also a serious concern. IHMS findings indicate length of stay in detention directly correlates to depleting mental health.
With the average length of stay being 457 days, approximately 22.4 per cent of asylum seekers are rated as severely mentally distressed and 19.4 per cent as moderately mentally distressed.
Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) secretary Michael Pezzullo said that an extensive range of mental health services such as mental health assessments and personalised care plans are available for detainees to access, as well as mental health nurses, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. – Samantha Barrie
Screen grab of asylum seekers protesting at Manus Island in 2014 from SBS Dateline’s YouTube channel.