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HRTMH Program affiliate spearheads public comment letter on mental health of migrant children in detention

Ryan Matlow, PhD, an affiliate in Stanford’s Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program

Ryan Matlow, PhD, affiliate in Stanford’s Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program

Nov 2 2018

Posted In:

In the Media, Trauma Mental Health

Ryan Matlow, an core affiliate of Stanford’s Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program, spearheaded a letter to the Trump administration detailing the negative physical and mental health effects of detention on immigrant and refugee families and children.

The letter, co-signed by a group of medical faculty from Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), expressed concern about the detention of noncitizen families with children (family units) and unaccompanied noncitizen children for indeterminate and possibly indefinite periods of time. They called such detention “trauma by definition,” writing, “In the case of indefinite family detention, individuals are stripped of their autonomy and right to self-determination, and are left with little or no information about the possibility or timeline for release, leaving families in a state of psychological distress.”

Matlow, who is also the director of community research programs in The Early Life Stress & Pediatric Anxiety Program (ELSPAP), later discussed in Stanford Medicine’s Scope the long-term effects on children’s decision-making processes: “When that young person is faced with a triggering situation, when they experience fear or danger or some kind of cue or signal that reminds them of something related to their trauma, they’re more susceptible to that emotional, fight-or-flight, survival response, which is often a fear-based response or leads to aggression or defensiveness.”

It concluded, “The U.S. government should not and cannot be complicit in further traumatizing noncitizen children and families or anybody else, not only because of the inherent human rights violations involved in practices of indefinite detention, but also because of the high costs that will be imposed on our own health care systems and the damage to U.S. international reputation.” The letter can be found in its entirety at the end of this page.

The letter was also signed by the director of Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health (HRTMH) Program, Professor Daryn Reicherter, MD. The HRTMH Program is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Handa Center, Stanford Law School faculty, and Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.