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Rate of mental health disorders higher in offshore detention centres, report reveals

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Asylum seekers detained offshore have a higher rate of distress and mental health disorders than those in detention in Australia, according to a new health assessment.

The findings, obtained by Fairfax Media, are included in a report by International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the organisation contracted to provide medical services in detention centres.

The report reveals about half the asylum seekers at processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island are suffering from significant depression, stress or anxiety.

A third of asylum seekers on the mainland and on Christmas Island were found to be suffering major health problems.

Audio: Dr Yong on asylum mental health concerns (ABC News)

Dr Choong-Siew Yong, a former member of the Australian Government's now disbanded health advisory group on detention, says the report confirms what was already suspected about the conditions in offshore detention.

"The environment and fact that people have such a high-level uncertainty about their futures is a major factor rates of symptoms is so high," he told Radio Australia.

"If processing times were faster, if people had more certainty about the outcome I suspect that you wouldn't see these sorts of rates of mental disorders."

The detention centre on Nauru houses almost 1,200 asylum seekers. About 1,300 people are currently being held at the Manus Island facility in Papua New Guinea.

Concerns over long-term effects on child detainees

The IHMS report covers the period from January to March this year, when more than 5,400 asylum seekers were in detention in mainland facilities and on Christmas Island.

It found more than 1,000 people in immigration detention are showing clinical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Yong says he's particularly concerned about the long-term effects that detention could have on children's emotional and intellectual development.

"We're not really having access to exactly what's available for children and families in the offshore processing centres, but with the information that was presented around the adults' complaints of mental health disorders you have to wonder about the effects on children.

"What our concern for young children is the effect of the detention environment on normal family functioning and the opportunity for these children to have access to the normal sorts of things that you would want children to have - education, play, a sense of safety and the ability for the parents to be effective parents."

Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says there were no psychiatric services in place at offshore detention centres when the Coalition Government came to power, but the situation is changing.

"While there may not be an individual full-time psychiatrist at Manus Island, there have been psychiatric services being provided at Manus Island." he said.

"The IHMS is still seeking to fill that full-time permanent role.

"That's not to say those services are not provided - that would be a complete misrepresentation of the situation there."

Australian Broadcasting Corporation