Humanitarian organisation blames Australia for mental health crisis

A report which the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/ Doctors without Borders) released this week says the island nation of Nauru is facing a mental health crisis.

The Indefinite Despair report includes medical data MSF gathered during the past year while it was contracted by the Nauruan government to deliver mental health services.

These services were provided to Nauruans and to asylum seekers and refugees detained there under Australia’s offshore detention policy.

The report says Nauruan and refugee patients show similar levels of mental illness that are far worse than other MSF projects around the world.

While stigma and a lack of understanding of mental illness were leading to poor healthcare for both Nauruan and detained people, the report says Nauruan patients were improving under MSF treatment while refugees and asylum seekers were not.

MSF also reports that rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among the refugees and asylum seekers were exacerbated by family separation and the violence they experienced on Nauru (some of which was allegedly inflicted by authority figures).

The refugees’ and asylum seekers’ prior detention on Christmas Island was also found to be an exacerbating factor in poor mental health outcomes.

Using a mental health scoring method known as Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF), MSF says it found the situation on Nauru to be more severe than in many global emergencies it deals with.

The report says waiting in limbo for five years meant the Nauru detainees had a lower GAF score than torture victims MSF had treated.

“We found this loss of control was associated with major psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. We also found the loss of control was associated with higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts,” said Dr Beth O’Connor, one of the psychiatrists involved.

The report found among 208 refugee and asylum seeker patients, 60 percent had suicidal thoughts and 30 percent attempted suicide, one as young as nine years old.

A breakdown in the relationship between MSF and the Nauruan government saw the doctors expelled in October this year, just 11 months after the contract began.


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