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Asylum seeker mental health concerns

Words by Martin Ditmann

The Australian Medical Students’ Association has launched a new campaign about asylum seeker policy, based on health concerns.

The campaign urges the Australian government to change its policies on asylum seekers. AMSA says the current system of prolonged detention is harmful to asylum seekers’ health—particularly in terms of mental health. It seeks to end any policy that deters asylum seekers from coming to Australia.

Campaign Logistics Officer Kasun Wickramarachchi said AMSA recommends “specific band-aid solutions” to minimise health impacts. These include an independent national health body and support for state governments to improve accessibility of mental health services.

AMSA Global Health Officer Timothy Martin said many asylum seekers grapple with mental health issues. “There are a range of mental health conditions which our policies are causing – depression, anxiety, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

Mr Wickramarachchi said he believes everyone should have an equal right to health and mental health is a particular focus with regard to asylum seekers. “It is the perfect example of the detrimental effects that current policy has on the health and wellbeing of those in detention and processing facilities,” he said.

AMSA members say the program has spurred them into action. Mr Martin said he’s been particularly moved by the experiences of his friend, who is currently in detention.

“He has tried to take his life on several occasions and ended up in psychiatric care more times than I can count,” he said.

AMSA claims it has 300 members signed up to be involved in the campaign. Their roles will involve petitioning and educating, as well as meeting with politicians to discuss AMSA’s concerns.

Mr Martin also says AMSA is open to working with other student groups.

This is not the first time AMSA has run a campaign on national issues or done work around asylum seeker issues.

This campaign follows AMSA’s “Crossing Borders for Health” program, in which medical students across the country visit detention centres and provide services.