This article deals with mental health and may be triggering for some readers.
It’s called resignation syndrome. It’s when children are so traumatised by their situation that they stop talking, stop eating and slip into a state of hibernation. And it’s happening right now with children on Nauru who have been sent there by the Australian Government.
According to a BuzzFeed report, there are a number of refugee and asylum seeker children on Nauru who are showing symptoms of resignation syndrome. One girl was reportedly brought to Australia for medical treatment late last month after she cut herself with a razor and stopped eating and drinking.
“It’s one of those very severe responses to stress and trauma,” Professor Louise Newman, the convenor of Doctors For Justice, explains to Mamamia. “Usually it starts out as a state of depression and anxiety. It can progress, so children not eating, not talking and occasionally becoming very physically withdrawn and looking as if they’re in a semi-comatose sort of state where they’re not responsive.
“We think about it as a state of withdrawal, when the world has become unbearable and a child is overwhelmed, and often the family are overwhelmed as well by whatever situation they’re in. It’s almost like a child going into hibernation when the world is too threatening or dangerous.”
Professor Newman says the children feel trapped.
“They are in a state where they have very limited control over their lives, very limited options. They’re in a state of what you might call despair and they’ve got very limited ways of expressing that. It’s inescapable.”
Resignation syndrome was first identified in Sweden, where it was given the name uppgivenhetssyndrom. It was seen only among refugee children who faced the threat of deportation. Their parents brought them into hospital, terrified that they were dying, but they had no disease that could be diagnosed. They seemed to have simply lost the will to live.
Watch: Myth-busting facts about refugees.