Psychologists back Ombudsman’s inquiry into detainee distress and self-harm

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) welcomes the announcement by the Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher of an inquiry into the alarming rates of detainee distress and self-harming behaviours. 

“Indefinite detention in remote locations is known to be soul-destroying”, said psychologist Heather Gridley, a co-author of the APS Position Statement on the Psychological Wellbeing of Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Australia.

“The APS can highlight significant psychological research that would predict the emergence of ‘a landscape of fear and mutual distrust’, as the Ombudsman describes the current situation in places like Christmas Island and Scherger Detention Centre in Far North Queensland,” Ms Gridley said.

In its position statement, based on the latest research in the area, the APS recommended that immigration detention be only used as a short-term option - and should not take place offshore or in remote locations. The Position Statement stressed that community-based alternatives to detention should be prioritised.

The APS is also concerned about the lack of resources and support for mental health professionals working on the front line with detainees and detention centre staff in times of such heightened distress and hostility.

Ms Gridley concluded: “Make no mistake, detention compromises the mental health of all detainees, and often the wellbeing of those who work with them, and we are now seeing the effects of detention on young men in particular.”

The APS has offered its expertise on refugee mental health to the Ombudsman’s Inquiry.            


The APS Position Statement on the Psychological Wellbeing of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Australia is available at:

For more information or to arrange an interview contact:  Karen Coghlan on 03 8662 6638 or Judith Heywood on 03 8662 3301 or call the media mobile on 0435 896 444.
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples’ lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.