Nauru asylum seekers' mental health as bad as torture victims, doctors say

The mental health crisis on Nauru is the worst doctors have ever seen, a new report released by Doctors Without Borders has found.

AAP Image/ Jason Oxenham/Pool Photo via AP

Doctors have described the mental health of asylum seekers on Nauru as among the most severe cases they've seen. Source: AAP / , AP

Australian doctors say the mental health of asylum seekers on Nauru is similar to torture victims. 

A new report titled 'Indefinite Despair' by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) looked at the mental health suffering experienced by Asylum Seekers on Nauru. 


Doctors Without Borders Australia President Stewart Condon said data collected from doctors treating asylum seekers on Nauru points to a mental health crisis.

"What our data shows is that the mental health situation on Nauru is nothing short of disastrous.

"In fact, the mental health situation and suffering is amongst the most severe that MSF has seen around the world. Including in projects providing care for victims of torture."

Dr Condon says the extent of suicidal thoughts within the Nauru asylum seeker community is one of the most alarming findings.

There are now less than 30 children remaining on Nauru after another 8 were evacuated off the island.
The government has committed to removing children from Nauru. Source: SBS

MSF data shows 60 per cent of asylum seekers and refugee patients had suicidal thoughts and nearly one third had attempted suicide.

According to the report, 75 per cent of patients seen by Doctors Without Borders staff had already experience trauma prior to their arrival on Nauru.

More than 20 per cent reported experiencing violence while on the Island, putting them at greater risk of psychological deterioration.

Christine Rufener was the Doctors Without Borders mental health activities manager on Nauru.

She says doctors on the island noticed a disturbing trend when asylum seekers began experiencing feelings of hopelessness.

"With hopelessness comes an inability to cope with the horrors of the past and daily life under indefinite detention.

"Such loss was evident among the 12 of our patients, mostly children, who developed resignation syndrome - a form of depression so severe they withdrew from life and entered a semi-comatose state."

Dr Rufener says asylum seekers seen by Doctors Without Borders staff felt a lack of control over their own lives.

"They know very well they are being used as pawns by one government to make a point, and another government to make a profit.

"This sense of injustice further stripped refugees of their health, their humanity and their dignity."

Doctors Without Borders staff were removed from Nauru in October.

Asylum seekers are now being made to wait up to a month to access mental health services remaining on the Island.

3 min read
Published 3 December 2018 at 10:56am
By Michelle Rimmer