The 37 asylum seeker babies and 54 children who risk deportation from Australia could face significant, irreversible mental health damage if sent back to Nauru. And the longer they’re detained, the greater the risk of damage.
A report released today by the Australian Human Rights Commission shows children previously detained on Nauru already show significant symptoms of trauma.
The word trauma is overused in everyday descriptions of stress and adversity. In a psychological sense, traumatic experiences pose a threat to an indivual’s psychological or physical integrity and overwhelm their capacity to cope or adapt.
Humans have enormous capacity to adapt and change in the face of stress. This neurological and physiological process forms the basis of what is currently described as resilience.
But there is only so much trauma an individual can endure before it causes long-term problems for mental health, cognition and behaviour. And there’s only so much difference good mental health care can make in undoing the damage.
Trauma from Nauru
In October 2015, delegates from the Australian Human Rights Commission, accompanied by two paediatricians, visited the Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin to assess the well-being of children and their families.
Most of the children the paediatricians interviewed at Wickham Point had spent several months on Nauru. When asked if he was scared about being sent back to Nauru, a nine-year-old boy replied:

 I am scared in my room every night at 10pm when they walk and open the door for the head count. I think someone is going to take me away.

The paediatricians say the children are among the most traumatised they have seen. Nineteen of the 20 children who completed the childhood trauma screening questionnaire were deemed at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

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