Media Release: 5 February 2016

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has added its voice to the concerns of peak health professional bodies about the Australian Government’s current detention policies and procedures. Wednesday’s High Court decision may have confirmed the technical legality of offshore detention, but the APS believes it is ultimately ineffective and indefensible to inflict enormous suffering on one group of desperate people in order to send a message of deterrence to others.

APS President Professor Michael Kyrios emphasized that “mounting mental health evidence over the past 12 years clearly points to the risks associated with detaining people in remote offshore locations.” He went on to highlight that “health professionals cannot ignore their ethical and moral obligations to the suffering of affected individuals and communities.”

The APS has repeatedly expressed its concerns about the severe mental health risks of detention for prolonged periods. “Helplessness, anguish and despair are normal reactions to conditions of confinement and uncertainty which characterise the detention environment,” said Professor Kyrios.

He said psychologists were particularly concerned about the children (including 37 babies) and their families who are likely to be returned to Nauru following the High Court decision. 

The APS believes it is time for all parties to come together to reach a lasting resolution to the tensions between adequate border protection and humane responses to asylum-seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival. A bipartisan approach that abandons politically motivated ‘race to the bottom’ policies in favour of genuine and lasting regional co-operation is essential in the long term.

Professor Kyrios said: “Remote detention restricts access to mental health and other services, as well as impeding links to community resources and networks and increasing the likelihood of abuse. Of particular concern, the harsh restrictions around information and disclosure make it almost impossible for health professionals to meet their ethical obligations. This is a complex issue that requires input from a range of organisations and disciplines with the right expertise to ensure our obligations to protect people's health and safety are met.”

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Notes to editors:

For more information, or to arrange an interview call Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or email  Find the APS Media team on Twitter:  @AustPsych.  

The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 21,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.