March 14th 2007: Pamela Curr cites a recent paper that looks at the effects of Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on memories and cognition. Asylum seekers are required to remember minute details of very traumatic events in their lives to convince Australian beurocrats that they are genuine refugees. After long periods in detention, for some ECT is a treatment of choice. Its a treatment that could affect the ability to support their story. It would be cheaper and much more effective to release these detainees into the community! Detention is what is causing much of the trauma. A full comment is below.
The paper is noted in two sites: Virtual Medical Center has a full comment on the reversal of Dr Sackheim's assessment of ECT. And the Medline abstract of Sackheim's article in Neuropsychopharmacology 2007 Jan;32(1):244-54.
Suicide attempts in Detention Centres. http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200509/s1455571.htm (September 8th 2005)
Baxter Creates Mental Health problems. in The Age.
"AUSTRALIA'S mandatory detention system has traumatised asylum seekers to the point where they could be beyond medical help…
Dr Jon Jureidini, … has seen detainees since 2002 and wonders whether treatment is propping up a system that creates mental illness.
"It's a mad system and it makes people who are vulnerable behave even madder," Dr Jureidini said.
He told a mental health conference in Adelaide that increasing psychiatric resources to the Baxter detention centre would not improve detainees' mental health, and could help maintain an "inhumane" system.
…"I would not want to mislead people to think that improving psychiatric services will improve the mental health problems," he said. "Treatment may take the edge off (detainees') suffering, but it will also blunt their protests. It's very dangerous to engage with the Department of Immigration."
RAC held a Public Forum on Detainee Health on Thursday April 28th.
notes from the talks here.
Andrew's article on the forum on Mental Health in Green Left Weekly.
Read the Justice Finn's judgement on the cases mentioned below: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/federal_ct/2005/549.html
or download it as a rich text file (30 pages, 409Kbs)
6 May 2005
MENTAL HEALTH COUNCIL CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF MENTALLY ILL DETAINEES
"The Federal Government must immediately release all mentally ill people being held in Immigration detention centres into the care of mental health services," Keith Wilson, Chair of the Mental Health Council said today.
A judgement by the Federal Court judge today criticised the Commonwealth for failing in its duty of care for two Iranian men in need of psychiatric treatment in the Baxter Detention Centre.
Significantly, in his judgement Justice Paul Finn agreed with three independent psychiatrists that the Baxter environment was the primary cause of the men's mental illness and that keeping them there condemned them to ongoing injury.
The judge also said the Government's treatment plans for the two men may have actually exacerbated their condition.
"The judge has supported what the Mental Health Council has been saying for far too long - that it is not possible to treat mental illnesses within a punitive environment," Mr Wilson said.
"The Department of Immigration is clearly acting in breach of the National Mental Health Standards to which the Australian Government is a signatory.
"The Government must now act to have all detainees properly assessed by forensic mental health specialists and immediately release all people assessed as mentally ill into the care of mental health services."
Between 60 to 80 per cent of people currently being held in immigration detained by the Government are believed to be suffering from mental illnesses.
"The high rate of mental illness among detainees is unsurprising - the reason many of these people fled to Australia is because they were traumatised in their home countries", Mr Wilson said.
"That the Australian Government’s treatment of them has exacerbated their illnesses is unacceptable. It is now time for the Government to end the suffering and provide the proper forensic mental health care these people are entitled, by law, to receive."
May 5th 2005: Justice Paul Finn found the Commonwealth Government breached its duty of care to two Baxter detainees. (Mental Health ruling.)
In The Advertiser 05 May 2005 Tim Dornin wrote:
"…Having regard to the deterioration of the mental condition of the two men and the lack of action by the commonwealth, continued detention may have exacerbated the men's problems, Justice Finn said.
He also pointed to expert opinion that concluded Baxter itself was the primary cause of mental illness."
Dr Louise Newman spoke at RAC's Forum in April 2005 and was heard on ABC's World Today May 5th.
"… LOUISE NEWMAN: I think it's very important that the Department now re-look at the whole issue of the rates of mental disorder in detention centres and revisit the question of the adequacy of these environments to actually house and treat these people.
The Department certainly has a duty of care. They've now been found to breach that duty of care, and I think that's got very serious implications for those remaining long-term detainees.
KAREN BARLOW: A spokesman for the Immigration Department says the ruling is being taken very seriously. He says the Department is currently examining the decision and the implications for the ongoing provision of mental health services in immigration detention facilities."
please raise this matter with your local politicians
DIAC CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Authorising Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for mentally ill detainees.
Long term detainees in psychiatric hospitals whose mental state continues to deteriorate in detention are now being threatened with Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The treatment involves passing an electric current across part of the head, causing the brain to have a seizure (convulsion).
"In a stunning reversal, an article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in January 2007 by prominent researcher Harold Sackeim of Columbia University reveals that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) causes permanent amnesia and permanent deficits in cognitive abilities, which affect individuals' ability to function. This study provides the first evidence in a large, prospective sample that adverse cognitive effects can persist for an extended period, and that they characterize routine treatment with ECT in community settings," the study notes."
The most important side-effect of ECT is its effect on memory. During the course of ECT most patients will experience forgetfulness and loss of short-term memory especially around the time of treatment. Many people will also notice that they can't remember certain things that have occurred in their lives for up to 6 or 12 months before treatment. This type of memory loss does not always return fully. People contemplating ECT should discuss potential memory effects with their doctor before proceeding.
"Asylum Seekers in their interrogation by Immigration Department (DIAC) officers are expected to remember every detail of their lives and the reasons why they fled their country. In order to validate their stories, they are expected to be able [to remember] details such as how many people were in the room in which they were tortured, all physical details of the room, times, dates of events etc." says Pamela Curr of the ASRC "If their memories have been obliterated by ECT, how can they validate their stories, how can they make DIAC and the Refugee Tribunal believe them if they canít remember what happened."
"DIACís role in authorising treatment which diminishes the capacity of an asylum seeker to make a claim for asylum is a direct conflict of interest."
Patient 1 in Toowong Hospital was recommended for ECT until DIAC stopped it after advocates expressed their concern and dismay in November 2006. He is still in hospital awaiting a decision. His treating psychiatrist has stated that he is too sick to travel.
Patient 2. The Minister has refused his visa however DIAC have decided not to tell him because he is suicidal. He remains in hospital under close observation.
Patient 3. This man has had 6 ECT treatments and now cannot remember if he has a 417 before the Minister or at what stage his process is. He now has confusion and memory loss. Before detention he was a highly qualified IT technician.
Patient 4. This woman collapsed into unconsciousness in Port Augusta Housing because no one had noticed that she was so depressed that she had neither eaten nor drunk anything for ten days. She is currently threatened with ECT.
"These patients who were well, stable individuals until they were placed in long term detention centres are now terribly depressed. Psychiatrists have written reports indicating that recovery is not possible while their futures are insecure. They have also advised that these patients are not fit to travel. Rather than release them from detention, DIAC are choosing ECT. DIAC are approving a course of treatment which places at risk the mental faculties of people whose very survival depends on their capacity to remember and convince bureaucrats by the acuity of this faculty. They are killing their chances of being believed," Curr continues.
Refugee Action Committee ~ LPO Box 8287, ANU,
Canberra ACT, 0200 ~ Tel 02 6249 8613
Home page: http://www.refugeeaction.org/index.html ~ contact Webmaster
Page modified 27 October 2005