Mental distress and human rights of asylum seekers

Campbell, Emma Jean and Steel, Emily Jean (2015) Mental distress and human rights of asylum seekers. Journal of Public Mental Health, 14 (2). pp. 43-55. ISSN 1746-5729


Purpose This paper studies the experiences of asylum seekers in Australia. It aims to explore the relationship between mental wellbeing, living conditions, and Australia’s detention policies in light of human rights. Design/methodology/approach Using grounded theory, data was collected via observations, semi-structured interviews, key-informant interviews, and document analysis. Participants included seven asylum seekers and three professionals working with them. Findings In light of a human rights framework, this paper reports on the mental distress suffered by asylum seekers in detention, the environments of constraint in which they live, and aspects of detention centre policy that contribute to these environments. The findings highlight a discrepancy between asylum seekers’ experiences under immigration detention policy and and Australia’s human rights obligations. Research limitations/implications This research indicates human rights violations for asylum seekers in detention in Australia. This research project involved a small number of participants and recommends systemic review of the policy and practices that affect asylum seekers’ mental health including larger numbers of participants. Consideration is made of alternatives to detention as well as improving detention centre conditions. The World Health Organization’s Quality Rights Tool Kit might provide the basis for a framework to review Australia’s immigration detention system with particular focus on the poor mental wellbeing of asylum seekers in detention. Originality/value This study links international human rights law and Australian immigration detention policies and practices with daily life experiences of suffering mental distress within environments of constraint and isolation. It identifies asylum seekers as a vulnerable population with respect to human rights and mental wellbeing. Of particular value is the inclusion of asylum seekers themselves in interviews.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Access to published version is in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Health and Wellbeing (1 Jan 2015 - 31 Dec 2021)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Health and Wellbeing (1 Jan 2015 - 31 Dec 2021)
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2018 01:26
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2018 03:13
Uncontrolled Keywords: wellbeing, policy, asylum seekers, human rights, mental health
Fields of Research (2008): 18 Law and Legal Studies > 1801 Law > 180114 Human Rights Law
16 Studies in Human Society > 1606 Political Science > 160602 Citizenship
11 Medical and Health Sciences > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111714 Mental Health
Fields of Research (2020): 48 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 4899 Other law and legal studies > 489999 Other law and legal studies not elsewhere classified
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4408 Political science > 440802 Citizenship
42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4203 Health services and systems > 420313 Mental health services
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 94 Law, Politics and Community Services > 9404 Justice and the Law > 940499 Justice and the Law not elsewhere classified
C Society > 92 Health > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920410 Mental Health
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