Detention should be last resort: psychologists

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is calling on the federal government to abide by its own policy regarding using detention as a 'last resort' rather than returning to the practice of the past.

APS fellow and past president, Amanda Gordon, said that refugees who arrive in Australia by boat have put their own lives at risk and are in need of care, protection and an opportunity to heal - which is not available in detention.

"More than 90 per cent of those who come by boat to Australia are refugees fleeing trauma and despair. They will eventually leave detention to become Australians. Let us process their claims quickly and ensure that those that meet criteria join our community in a mentally strong state - rather than adding to their suffering and our mental health bill," Ms Gordon said.

Research by mental health experts has shown that prolonged detention can lead to significant psychological problems. Factors that increase the seriousness of these problems include: uncertainty; concern about the future; previous trauma and lack of meaningful activity.

Children who spend time in detention are of particular concern as they may suffer developmental delay and ongoing psychological disadvantage.

Christmas Island is now facing issues of overcrowding, a known contributor to the development of adverse psychological effects. The federal government has announced that Sri Lankan and Afghan refugees will now be sent to Derby in Western Australia's far north to ease crowding issues. With the 'double blow' of having their applications for refugee status suspended and facing relocation to a remote area, refugees face even greater uncertainty, and research suggests that negative psychological outcomes will follow.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Ellise McLoughlan
Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator
Australian Psychological Society
T: 03 8662 3300 | M: 0435 896 444

Lynne Casey
Senior Manager, Communications and Public Interest
Australian Psychological Society
Ph: 03 8662 3370 | M: 0432 264 173 

The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 18,000 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.