Examining The Mental Health Of Each Gender Criminology Essay

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The impact of detention on the mental health of the men, women and in particular the children, in immigration detention centres is of concern in Australia. This essay will look at research reports from senior psychiatrists and psychologists, mental health experts, and oral testimonies, which show that long term detention of refugees, can have a negative impact on the general psychological well- being of the detainees. Some of these problems found include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), major distress, anxiety, suicidal intentions and in particular with the children, bed wetting, self destructive behaviour, attempted self harm, and actual self harm.

The following topics will show the origins of refugees and their arrival in Australia, and due to the mandatory detention policies upon arrival, their mental health during incarceration.

Refugees country of origin

What happens to refugees when they arrive

Mental health of short and long term detainees

Case examples of trauma

Refugees' countries of origin:

Many of our refugees are fleeing their countries because of war, torture, political upheaval, religious intolerance and extreme hunger, poverty and homelessness, a large number of refugees already suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and a sense of hopelessness. There is instability during civil wars, and the only options that they see is to flee to a place where they can live in safety and peace, and give their children and themselves a chance of a better life, this is a basic need and want for every human.

Origins of refugees and the reasons they flee from their countries;

In 2007/2008 the three main geographical areas that refugees came from where; The Middle East and South West Asia (35.5%) including Iraq & Afghanistan; Asia (33.7%), including Burma, Myanmar and Sri Lanka; and Africa (30.5%), including Sudan, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Off Shore Resettlement Program, Visas granted by region 2005-2008





Middle East &

SW Asia





















12 758

11 186

10 799

Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Programme, Fact Sheet 60. At: http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm, (viewed 26 January 2010)

Years spent in refugee camps exasperate the mental conditions of many and despair and sorrow is a daily occurrence, their light at the end of the tunnel is a seeking safety with a country who values human rights, just like Australia or so they believe. In Zambia the camps have little food or clean water, limited medical supplies and the children face malnutrition and malaria [1] . Scores of third world countries are over populated, such as India and Bangladesh, and China has a one child policy rule due to over population and some women are forced into sterilization after birth (H. A. Reitsma and J. M. Kleinpenning, 1985[cited in Enzine Articles [2] ). An annual Report for the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) stated that:

"Officials have coerced compliance with the policy through a system marked by pervasive propaganda, mandatory monitoring of women's reproductive cycles, mandatory contraception, mandatory birth permits, coercive fines for failure to comply, and, in some cases, forced sterilization and abortion. The Chinese government's population planning laws and regulations contravene international human rights standards by limiting the number of children that women may bear, by coercing compliance with population targets through heavy fines, and by discriminating against ''out-of-plan'' children [3] "( 2006).

( CECC) also maintain in the same report that human trafficking is also high in China, and some 10,000 to 20,000 men, women and children fall victim to trafficking each year. Thailand lures women from ethnic minorities to apply for so called exciting job prospects these women come from China, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia and are unaware of what awaits them when they arrive. The women are threatened by violence and are in danger of being handed over to the authorities if they do not comply, and as prostitution is prohibited in their own countries and the receiving countries they are reluctant to tell authorities in fear of being arrested, thus making them highly dependent on their captors [4] (Seabrook, J 1996).

In Afghanistan countless people are in need of humanitarian aid because of the on-going wars and terrorist attacks on their own soil by their own countrymen [5] (Ruben, B 2006). Antonio Domini, Head of UN Humanitarian Program in Afghanistan, states that "Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world in which to survive [6] " (cited The Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney).

We can only imagine, and empathise at best with the plights of refugees all over the world, all they want is what all human beings want, and that is to live in peace and safety. There are some people who will take advantage and claim refugee status for selfish, criminal or other than genuine need for safety, but we cannot punish those who do have a legitimate reason claiming refugee status in Australia. Under the Universal Declaration of Rights, Article 14 states that, "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution".

In 2008-2009 visas were granted to the following top ten countries:


Number of visas granted













Congo (DRC)






Sierra Leone


Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Programme, Fact Sheet 60. At: http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm, (viewed 26 January 2010)

What happens to refugees when they arrive?

Refugees enter Australia in two ways, as authorised arrivals or unauthorised arrivals. Authorised arrivals are those who come on visas' such as, student visas or tourist and visitor visas, and can apply for a Permanent Protection Visa (PPV), and if they meet the requirements, they will be eligible for a bridging visa while their PPV is being processed. Unauthorised arrivals who enter Australia without any valid visas' are detained in detention until the government is satisfied with their identity and health. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) people who are not Australian citizens and who are unlawfully in Australia are to be detained, they also state that detention is an "administrative function whereby people who do not have a valid visa are detained while their claims to stay are considered or their removal is facilitated [7] ".

Detainees can face long periods of detention, it is at this time the mental health of these people start to deteriorate. The recommended time in detention is suggested to be approximately three months [8] , and if the detainee poses no risk to the community, they should be able to be released into the society on community detention, which will give them the freedom to move and integrate into the community. The longer the incarceration, the higher risk of mental disorders developing. Those who are detained for more than 12 months in detention centres had a rate of 3.6 times higher for new mental illnesses than those detained under 3months [9] .

Mental health of detainees:

Detention is one of the severest liberal punishments known to most societies, and to imprison a person for an unspecific time when no crime in their eyes has been committed would have a major mental health impact on any person. Many of asylum seekers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) due to past traumatic events; little did they know that they may well be fleeing from persecution to imprisonment.

Long term detention can be up to and over in some cases four years, and this in itself is a cause for major mental health problems, to treat the mental health of detainees is very difficult, it is best to remove the primary cause of the problem, which is detention, and until (DIAC) is satisfied with all the requirements to meet their visa regulations, detainees will remain in detention, thus making it difficult to treat the primary cause of mental health.

When any one of the Australian community commits a crime and is incarcerated they at least have the knowledge of when they will be released, immigration detainees live in uncertainty and have no idea when they will be released, and of course knowing that their only crime is seeking help from another country and being held behind razor wire enclosures with limited social facilities, it is little wonder that mental issues will arise. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission [10] (HREOC) summary of observations into mainland immigration facilities show that detention should be only for short periods of time to conduct necessary identity, security and health checks. HREOC believes that;

"any decision to detain a person should be under the prompt scrutiny of the judicial system. Further, there should be outer limits on the periods for which immigration detention is permitted. In the absence of repealing mandatory detention, there should be greater efforts to promptly (within three months) release or transfer people out of detention centres by:

resolving substantive visa decisions

releasing detainees on bridging or removal pending visas

transferring detainees to residence determinations

Transferring detainees to places of alternative detention (in the event that (1) & (2) cannot be achieved).

Long term mental health impact of detention studies show that prolonged detention had a major impact on the psychological well being of refugees, these refugees have reported continual sadness, anger attacks, intrusive memories and hopelessness [11] (Steel et al 2006).

What has been observed in immigration detention centres in Australia are the excess rates of suicide, self harm, and suicide attempts. A report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights tell us that the number of suicides may be near ten times of the general Australian population and three times that of young adult men, while self harm and suicide attempts which are widespread in immigration detention centres are common amongst children and young people. Some of these suicide attempts involve drinking shampoo, the deep slashing of wrists, hanging, and throat slashing, it is important to note that some of these children are of pre-pubertal age, which rarely make suicide attempts [12] . A Psychologist Lyn Bender who in 2004 wrote on behalf of the detainees of Woomera Detention Centre who were being sentenced because of escaping immigration detention said,

"Daily acts of self harm were enacted, and many detainees were suffering extreme mental ill health; including severe depression and traumatic stress" (Bender, L 2004).

The detention environment itself creates and aggravates mental conditions and disorders and is draconian at best, The families being held behind razor wire and climatically harsh environments is testimony in itself of how mentally challenging it would be. It is this callous environment that exposes children to have major long term psychological problems, they frequently witness their parents slip in and out of depression, suicide attacks and watching the self harm of other children, and in a report into The Mental Health Effects of Immigration Detention Centres on Children and Young People for the Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights its said, "Over the months and years, Immigration Detention Centres' destroy families' lives and children's trust in the goodness of the world", and "Children are totally preoccupied with the detention environment. They may be emotionally overwhelmed by it or unable to think and feel because of it".

In a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention(NICID) showed comprehensive reports, case examples and detailed records on children detained in immigration detention, this inquiry required the fullest possible records regarding the mental health of children being detained, the most important records were sought through some of the following; Australasian Correctional Management Pty Limited(ACM) medical records, High risk Assessment Team records (HRAT), Department of Human Services (DHS), Department for Families and Communities(DFC) formally-Family and Youth Services of South Australia (FAYS), and the South Australian Child and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHS).

The Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) has a policy requiring that all detainees must have a health review within 24 hours of their reception, and this also includes a mental health evaluation [13] . The ACM suicide prevention policy is to 'prevent suicide' and through observation by the ACM personnel monitor suicidal gestures and suicidal attempts, all ACM personnel are trained in recognising potential suicide risks in detainees [14] . The fact that these types of policies are in place are an indication to the severity of the mental health problems found amongst people in the detention centres.

Children in detention are witness ongoing riots, suicide attempts and violence, their parents are powerless to protect them from this type of environment, and the child's depressive state means that it would be hard to even participate in educational or recreational activities to help them rise over their situation, or even distract them from the problems faced in detention, the primary cause of the problem is detention itself and removing them from that environment would be the wisest option.

The National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (NICID) says, 'when the mental health of the parents were so serious that they needed to be hospitalised, children were separated from their parents for some time'. Separation only made the distress in children worse. Children's behaviour which was once controlled by their parents have become less supervised and the depressive state of their parents is declining, and the longer these families are in detention the harder it is for the parents to care for their children, thus exposing them to situations like assault [15] (NICID 2004).

To fully understand the extent of the despair these refugees face in detention, we need to look at case examples and snapshots of incidences involving children and their families and what their state of mind is at that time.

Case examples of trauma:

These examples are of real life situations, they come from the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

10 January 2002 a paediatric registrar who was working at the Woomera Detention centre assessed about 20 children, 14 of these children displayed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the ages ranged from a few months old to sixteen years of age. Some of the symptoms included, withdrawal, bed wetting and behavioural change, they also noted that the parents were very concerned about the health of their children. Some of these children were put on anti depressants as it was the only option other than release from detention. Out of these children the following was observed in some;

(Girl aged 14 years) Diagnosis: has persisting symptoms of major depression and post traumatic stress disorder despite several months of treatment with therapy and appropriate medication. She is actively suicidal.

(Boy aged 11 years) Diagnosis: is completely dysfunctional for his age and experiences bouts of depression and uncontrollable rage. He is in the process of developing borderline conduct traits. High risk of suicide.

(Girl aged 3 years) this young girl has spent a third of her life in detention. Some of her nightmares may indicate the gradual development of post traumatic stress disorder from the inappropriate events that she may be witnessing.

(Boy aged 14) meets criteria for major depressive disorder, he is in a vulnerable phase of self development and in addition to the significant suicidal risk, and there is a considerable risk of self erosion of his sense of self.

Self-Harm is another example of what was being observed the inquiry noted the following:

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) found that children between the ages of seven and seventeen who where in detention at Woomera in 2002 where engaging in self harm activities, all of the children expressed continual thoughts of self harm and most of them acted on their impulses, these self harm acts includes, attempted hanging, drinking poisons like shampoo, cutting themselves and refusing food.

At an Inquiry visit by commission officers at a mass hunger strike between 13th January and 29th January 2002, officers saw children attempting to self harm themselves, the table below shows these incidences.

13th January - 29th January 2002



Lip sewing

7 ( two children sewed their lips twice)

Slashing their bodies

3 ( includes 14 year old who sewed his lips)

Drinking Shampoo

2 Children

Attempted hanging

1 Child

Self harm unspecified

2 Children

Threats of self harm

1 Child

Dale West the Director of Centrecare Catholic Family Services describes one particular raid, as follows [16] ;

"At seven o'clock last Saturday morning, uniformed men and women representing the Federal Government burst into our house at Dulwich, and arrested six children and their mother. It was clear that the planning for this operation had included a social visit the day before to 'case the joint' and determine who slept where. No thought was given to the re-traumatisation of these children by the surprise attack. No time to dress properly, no time to pack, no food, no access to toilet, and no explanation. Sixteen months of integration into schools, social networks, and building trust, destroyed in three frantic minutes. No nappy change for a baby boy snatched from his cot by a stranger, to cry all the way to Port Augusta. No bottle for him either. No time to change the youngest girl, who wet her pants as a fear reaction to being awoken by strangers. Simply forced to sit in the wet until arrival at the Baxter detention environment. Three days later, when I was able to visit the family inside Baxter, the signs of trauma in the children had returned. On high alert, but withdrawn, needing continual reassurance, the little ones are clinging again, trust gone. ....the heart of our international reputation on human rights has been ripped out, like sleeping children from their beds'.


The overall research is clear in some areas that, mandatory immigration detention is a primary cause of major psychological disorders in men, women and especially children, and the longer the stay in detention the more manifest these disorders become.

Over the last eight years the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has had a major shift in their detention policies regarding the detention of children in immigration prison. Although they still maintain their strict policy on mandatory detention for refugees, the policies on children and their families have changed considerably.

The findings from the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, highlight the draconian nature of immigration detention, and are in need of reform and change. Over the decades men, women and especially children have suffered in Australian immigration detention because of the lack of attention given to the needs of the mental state of detainees, and their surroundings, the time taken to process their visas' were and still are inadequate.

It is now government policy that, children will not be placed in immigration detention centres, there are however times when families will be accommodated in low security facilities until appropriate community residential detention can be made available, this gives the families access to move around the community and receive the appropriate support of the community, welfare and health organisations [17] .

Facilities such as Immigration Resident Housing (IRH) and Community Detention (CD) have given families a better chance to deal with their situation, IRH is a voluntary alternative to detention, for low flight and low security refugees, it is a family style accommodation while still in a secure setting under the supervision of detention officials they are able to have frequent visits to recreation and shopping areas [18] . CD gives more freedom to detainees, people reside in the community and can move freely about unaccompanied, they have no legal status or rights of an Australian citizen and they still remain in administrative immigration detention until their visa is approved, and this in some way makes the wait a little easier to put up with although the still live with the uncertainty of when their visa will be processed.

Although the effects of past traumatic events need to be dealt with in time, there is no added burden of being confined in a prison like setting and the uncertain time of release. Careful monitoring of the mental health of all families will help in dealing with past and present traumatic events. Despite the changes made over the years there are a number of issues that need amending and fine tuning, the visa system is still lengthy at best, and there are still no certain time frames that are attached to them. We can only hope that a more speedy method of dealing with visa applications can occur whilst still maintaining the well being of the refugees, and the security of Australia and its people.