Cornelia Rau mistaken detention highlights flaws in understanding of mental illness

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The mistaken detention of Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill woman, in prison and in an immigration detention centre, has highlighted the deficiencies in our community’s knowledge, understanding and response to people who have a mental illness or who exhibit emotional distress, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

The APS is urging the Government to broaden the scope of its enquiry into this tragic event to include a full review of the management of emotional and behavioural disturbance in immigration detention and correctional services.

“Disturbed behaviour has become so prevalent in detention centres that it may have inappropriately come to be considered as a ‘normal’ response. This has in turn hindered the accurate detection of mental illness,” says APS President, Amanda Gordon.

“Any review should include attention to issues such as the training and resource requirements of staff, ‘best practice’ psychological management, access to expert psychiatric opinion and the physical nature of detention facilities,” says Gordon.

“This case also draws attention to the significant psychological impact of detention. The prolonged stress of restrictive detention can become traumatic and will certainly exacerbate any existing psychological problems a person may have.”

The APS has previously criticised the policy of detaining children in immigration detention centres because of the psychological stress caused to them. The case of Cornelia Rau underlines the fact that similar risks apply to adult detainees.

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For more information or to arrange an interview with Amanda Gordon:

Elaine Grant
Communications Manager
Australian Psychological Society
03 8662 3300
0412 683 068
e.grant@psychology.org.au