Refugee Council of Australia
Men in detention centre

Australia’s detention policies

Mental health and conditions

How detention affects mental health

It is clear that indefinite detention causes serious mental health issues. This is caused by:

  • uncertainty about their future
  • their lack of independence and loss of control
  • the monotony of life in detention
  • concern about family members still living in danger overseas
  • the impacts of past torture and trauma, and
  • witnessing the negative impacts of detention on other people in detention.

The issues that are caused include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • cognitive problems
  • difficulties regulating their emotions
  • consistently behaving in a way that is not characteristic or normal
  • suffering insomnia and an inability to sleep at night (sleep-wake cycle reversal), and
  • engaging in coping strategies such as self-harm.

In the worst cases, this can lead to suicide.

The mental health implications of detention (Steel & Silove)

Consequences of long-term detention (Coffey et al)

Conditions of detention

These effects are compounded by their limited access to lawyers, interpreters, health services, and support networks. They often are limited in their ability to contact people outside. This is especially the case when people are detained in remote facilities, as often happens in Australia. 

The Australian Government is proposing to make this even harder, by banning mobile phones in detention centres.

Bill prohibiting mobile phones in detention (Parliament of Australia)

In recent years, these conditions have become more difficult. These include policies that make detention centres more like a jail, with greater use of force and conditions that are more like jail.

Use of force in immigration detention (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2019) Risk management in immigration detention (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2019) Another change in policy that has made life harder is new limitations on their access to visitors and the outside world.

Unwelcome visitors

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