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Prolonged Detention Tied to Mental Illnesses

Update Date: Jul 27, 2013 11:26 AM EDT
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Activists scale Sydney Opera House in protest of Manus island detention centre

The subject of isolation and prolonged detention is highly controversial. When countries detain people for violating laws, such as immigration or for terrorism, the length of the detainment is often unclear. Although these actions are done to protect one's nation, several organizations have condemned these practices particularly for illegal immigrants. Even though the basic necessities are provided, such as water, food and security, for illegal immigrants, a new study found that detention lasting over six months can be detrimental to one's mental health.

In this study, which was commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the researchers from the University of New South Wales' Social Policy Research Center interviewed around 350 people who were a part of the immigration detention program. These participants included detainees, management personnel and staff from 11 different detention locations throughout Australia. The researchers found that people who spent over six months in detention were at a greater risk of developing mental illnesses.

"Detainees who spend more than six months in detention are very likely to suffer from mental illness," the lead researcher, Professor Ilan Katz said according to Medical Xpress. "Even those who are more resilient will begin to deteriorate mentally."

The researchers found that a lot of the detainees developed anxiety during their detention, which appeared to be due to the lack of clear information and communication between them and the officials. They believe that other contributing factors included trauma experienced while getting into Australia, violence and concerns about family members. The researchers noted that even the most resilient participants who knew about the length of the detention started to breakdown and lose hope.

"Our research confirms that detention centers have limited capacity to prevent and address these mental health issues," Katz said. "Detainees rely on DIAC and detention staff for information, but unless it's consistent and transparent, they turn to people smugglers, community connections and other detainees to understand why they continue to spend long periods in detention when others in similar situations are freed very quickly."

The researchers added that detainees are often not allowed to exercise or participate in- group activities during their stay. These two activities alone could improve one's wellbeing drastically. However, detention facilities are not focused on these activities at all. The researchers recommend facilities to consider revamping how they hold immigrants. By developing a more consistent approach in giving out information in conjunction with some activities, the detainees' risk of suffering from mental illness could be lowered significantly. 

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