Refugee Mental Health

In Australia it has been common for Asylum seekers and refugees to be subjected to mandatory immigration detention for two years or more whilst they await their applications to be processed. They are prohibited to work whilst in detention.

There is a clear association between prolonged and indefinite incarceration and psychological injury for asylum seekers and refugees (e.g. Green and Edgar, 2010; Johnston, 2009; RACGP). The compound effect of indeterminate mandatory detention and the inability to work unequivocally leads to detainees developing anxiety, depression and psychosomatic illness. Pre-existing conditions such as post- traumatic stress disorder are exacerbated by detention and result in acute mental illnesses, self-harm and repeated suicide attempts. In the two years preceding February 2012, nine men died by suicide in Australian immigration detention centres.

These psychological injuries remain even after refugees receive visas and move into mainstream Australia. In addition, newly arrived refugees face cultural, economic and social challenges when they arrive.

Entrepreneurial psychology has the power to commence to remediate the effects of the powerlessness and mental illnesses caused by detention. It embraces the two core precepts central to mental healthcare for people with severe mental illness – social inclusion and recovery (UK Social Exclusion Unit, 2004).

Whilst working in immigration detention, Earnshaw drew heavily on the Entrepreneurial psychology methodology whilst working with Persian, Iraqi, Tamil, Kurdish, Afghani, Palestinian and Burmese refugees and asylum seekers.

Whilst 'work' was not possible for the detainees on Christmas Island, she utilised components of the Entrepreneurial psychology methodology and instigated group work. She created six new interventions whilst at the Christmas Island and Curtin detention centres, which assisted to ameliorate the clients' psychological distress.