An FOI request by the NT News has revealed high rates of psychiatric medicine use among asylum seekers being held in detention.
The article says Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) spokesman Sandi Logan did not say how many had seen a psychiatrist. Instead, he said detainees were being referred to psychiatrists by GPs “when clinically indicated”.
“It would be an unreasonable (use) of resources for the Department to collate information on how many saw psychiatrists as opposed to GPs,” he said.
Simon Tatz, Director of Communications at the Mental Health Council of Australia, is not impressed by Logan’s comments. “The MHCA believes that data must be made available about the mental health care people in Australian immigration detention centres receive,” says Tatz.
“It is simply unacceptable to not collect and make public information about the number of detainees accessing psychiatric treatment. This type of information is available about the general community and we use it when assessing programs such as Better Access and other mental health services.
“On what basis is DIAC employing psychiatrists and how do they determine their mental health workforce and the need for services if they don’t know how many detainees they are seeing or who need specialist mental health care?”
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Library’s FlagPost blog reports below on ongoing concerns about immigration detention policies.
Amnesty International on the harsh reality of immigration detention
Harriet Spinks writes:
On 23 February 2010 Amnesty International (Amnesty) released an initial report of its findings from a series of visits to immigration detention facilities around the country.
Amnesty has been consistently campaigning against the policy of mandatory detention for many years, and this is one of its most highly critical reports to date.
It paints a damning picture of Australia’s mandatory detention policy, highlighting the harsh conditions in which people are being held and the numerous mental health problems suffered by detainees due to ‘the indefinite nature of their imprisonment’.
The report accuses the government of ‘blatantly contravening’ international human rights standards and urges the abandonment of indefinite detention.
The report recommends a number of improvements be made to improve standards in most detention facilities, and that some be closed altogether.
It acknowledges that attempts are being made to improve conditions in some centres, however it concludes that the remoteness of some centres, in particular Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, in combination with the length of time people are being detained, means that human rights abuses and subsequent mental health issues amongst detainees are inevitable.
Mental health concerns are a particular focus of the report, noting that:
Among the asylum seekers who had been in detention for extended periods, self-harm and attempted suicides were talked about as a fact of life. The use of sleeping pills and other medication was also widespread, with many asylum seekers interviewed reported feeling like they needed medication to make it through each day, while at the same time anxious about the long-term effects of their usage.
Amnesty is not alone it its criticism of the human rights abuses inherent in the policy of mandatory detention, and the mental health implications for detainees. Similar concerns have been raised by numerous stakeholders, including refugee advocates, mental health professionals and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
A further, more detailed report of Amnesty’s inspections of detention facilities is expected to be released later in the year.
An overview of the policy of mandatory detention since it was introduced in 1992, and the different detention facilities in use in Australia can be found in the recent Parliamentary Library publication Immigration detention in Australia.
• Thanks to FlagPost for allowing cross-publication of this article