Asylum seekers’ mental health data collected but not used, says expert

Dr Peter Young says about a third of all those in detention exhibit significant clinical problems.
Dr Peter Young says about a third of all those in detention exhibit significant clinical problems. Photograph: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images

Mental health screening data on asylum seekers held in detention is still being collected but not used or analysed, a former mental health director within Australia’s immigration detention system has said.

Dr Peter Young is the former director of mental health services for International Health and Medical Services, which provides healthcare across Australia’s immigration detention network.

When Young first spoke out on this issue, to Guardian Australia, he said the immigration department had delayed using new measures to screen mental health issues in detention.

But the measures were eventually implemented in early 2014 – after the Australian Human Rights Commission began its inquiry into children in detention – and Young presented some early figures at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) conference last May.

Speaking at this year’s conference in Brisbane on Tuesday, he said the early figures highlighted significant deterioration in the health of asylum seekers in detention, with about a third of all those in detention exhibiting significant clinical problems.

But since that time, Young told the conference, while the data was still being collected, it was not being used to assess the health of people in immigration detention.

“This resulted in the collection of a lot of data, which unfortunately is not accessible now,” he said.

“The department were very unhappy about these results. Following this mental health screening was removed.

“The measurements are still occurring. But nobody is actually using the data, and nobody can look at them. And there’s been no further development in child mental health screening.”

Young also told the conference that the Australian federal police had contacted him before the conference.

“All of this information is published publicly on the department of immigration website,” he said. “It’s been brought to my attention that I must not speak about anything which is confidential information in the public domain.

“I had recent words from the federal police to that effect when they found out I was presenting here today.”

The Australian federal police have been contacted about their approach to Young.

The former mental health director of IHMS has been praised by peak mental health bodies and international human rights groups for speaking out about conditions in Australia’s immigration detention system.