Australia’s policy of indefinite offshore processing has triggered a mental health crisis on Nauru among the worst international medical humanitarian aid organisation MSF has seen globally, a new report has revealed.
Released by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this week, the medical data in the report, titled Indefinite Despair, has intensified calls for the Australian government to immediately end its policy and evacuate all refugees and asylum seekers from the island nation to avoid further deterioration of their health.
Of the 208 asylum seekers and refugees MSF treated on Nauru, 124 had suicidal thoughts and 63 had attempted suicide.
Although three-quarters of refugee and asylum seeker patients had experienced traumatic events prior to arriving on Nauru, such as conflict situations or detention, the MSF report found their current situation on Nauru was the most damaging to their mental health.
Specifically, 65% of asylum seekers and refugee patients said they lacked control over their lives, with the cohort significantly more likely to contemplate suicide or be diagnosed with major psychiatric conditions.
“Every day I worried which of my patients might attempt to take their own lives, because after five years of waiting people had lost all sense of hope,” said Dr Christine Rufener, clinical psychologist and MSF Mental Health Activities Manager.
“While many of our patients had experienced trauma, it was the Australian policy of indefinite processing that destroyed all their hope for the future and devastated their mental health.”
During 11 months on Nauru, MSF provided mental healthcare to 285 patients, including Nauruans, refugees and asylum seekers.
Some 1,526 consultations were provided for refugees and asylum seekers and 591 for Nauruans.
The report highlighted the equally worrying mental health situation of Nauruans, with almost half of MSF’s local patients having psychosis and requiring hospitalisation that was unavailable.
MSF has called on the Nauruan Government to invest further in mental health through increased staffing and inpatient facilities to meet the growing needs of its population.
Pointedly, more than half of MSF’s Nauruan patients showed improvements in their mental health functioning under the organisation’s care, while only 11% of asylum seeker and refugee patients got better.
“Our Nauruan patients’ mental health improved in a way that was not mirrored in our asylum seeker and refugee patients, despite receiving the same quality of care,” MSF Australian President, Dr Stewart Condon said.
“This illustrates that living under a policy of indefinite processing creates a perpetual state of despair, making it impossible for asylum seekers and refugees to recover.”