Harm and Hope: World Mental Health Coalition Statement Regarding Refugees and Asylum Seekers

We write as mental health professionals who are deeply concerned about the psychological harm our nation’s current immigration practices inflict on asylum seekers, immigrant communities, and our society.

Research indicates that harmful policies jeopardize the long-term emotional health of their direct targets, especially children. Such practices also endanger the mental health of federal and private employees ordered to implement them, as well as the mental health of society at large. Most citizens observe silently and so become vulnerable to passive bystander shame or other symptoms of vicarious trauma.

Current practices known to cause psychological harm include turning away traumatized asylum seekers, continued forced family separation, internment in detention camps, injurious treatment of detainees including children, “raids” in established communities, removal of long-term community members, and the absence of reasonable paths toward legal status.

We are alarmed that recent changes in executive policy and personnel show increasing cruelty with intent to inflict as much pain as the law allows.

However, it is important to emphasize that research also indicates a healthy path forward. Societies can return from collective trauma through meaningful contact, mutual goals, shared group identity, and active bystandership. Informed mental health professionals, educators, and faith leaders can can educate about these processes, so an informed society can find its shared humanity and its mutual moral compass.

Bandy X. Lee, M.Div, M.D., President

Prudence Gourguechon, M.D., Vice President

Scott M. Banford, LCSW, Secretary