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Lasting Mental Health Impact of Family Separation

Posted by Brian Spence on Jul 30, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Immigrants, Mental Health, ChildrenDespite President Trump's executive order and court interventions, thousands of immigrant children remain separated from their parents following attempted border crossings. The Trump administration's policy of family separation has provoked an outcry, including from mental health professionals, who worry about the impacts of detention on children.

Professionals Protest Family Separation

In fact, the American Psychological Association considers the policy inhumane and referred to its consequences as a "mental health crisis" in an open letter to the Trump administration. The APA is joined in their opposition by other groups of medical professionals, including the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organizations predict wide-ranging mental health issues for the separated children, including the potential for depression, anxiety, and future addictions.

Mental Health Impacts of Detention

So why is everyone so concerned? The opposition goes deeper than political ideology; psychological research is generally in agreement that family separations can be extremely harmful to the children involved.

According to a series of NPR interviews with experts in child development, even short detentions can have a lasting negative impact. "Of all of the kinds of things that can happen to a young child, loss of a parent is the biggest kind of trauma," says Megan Gunnar, a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota. She goes on to explain that this sort of trauma can have a host of consequences further down the line, ranging from attention problems to post-traumatic stress disorder. Harvard neuroscientist Charles Nelson agrees, adding that detention deprives children of consistent caregiving. This lack of one-on-one care is known to hamper cognitive and mental development in young children.

What Can Be Done?

The consensus among mental health experts is that family detentions are more humane than separating children. Unfortunately, for many children, the damage has already been done. In these cases, the necessary response is to reunite the families as quickly as possible to minimize further harm.

If issues like these concern you as they do us, you may want to consider a career in this field. If interested in learning more about this and related topics, visit the Mental Health section of our blog.


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