Challenges to Providing Mental Health Care in Immigration Detention: Global Detention Project Working Paper No. 19

Abstract: The global expansion of immigration detention systems creates an imperative for the mental health community to develop specialized models and practices of care. The harmful psychological effects of immigration detention and repeated findings that this practice results in breaches of human rights principles create a complex care setting. The authors employ lessons learned from their professional experiences in Australia, findings in specialized literature, and testimony from health workers and detainees to argue that immigration detention exhibits the qualities of an invalidating environment, wherein responses to a person’s emotional experiences are often inappropriate or inconsistent. In such settings the communication of emotional distress is generally ignored or responded to negatively with increasingly harsh responses that fail to address the cause of the distress. An invalidating environment promotes emotional and behavioural dysregulation, which is consistent with the experiences of many people held in immigration detention. Work by mental health professionals provides an important framework for understanding the corrosive nature of immigration detention and suggests a range of clinical approaches that may be adapted to assist in developing resilience to such settings. Read paper.