I did a small piece of work recently with some local agencies who were preparing to provide services to an unprecedented number of asylum seekers, people being released from detention into the community on temporary and bridging visas.

The not-for-profit groups got together for a planning day. I facilitated a round table of people looking at access to health services for the asylum seekers. Right from the start one member of the group reminded us that we were talking about health AND mental health. Her point was an interesting one, if we just talk about health there is an assumption that we’re talking of physiological illness, medication and health. A narrow definition of health that excluded, or did not specifically include, mental health could result in emotional and behavioural healthcare needs not being planned for or met.

For the people we were concerned about supporting emotional and physical health are inextricably linked. I could readily envision how the effects of torture, trauma, and long term detention would inevitably contribute to illness. It was also apparent to me that the stresses on body and mind due the asylum seeker journey would be expressed in various health issues.

Maybe it is one of those chicken and egg situations, who can say which is affected first mental health or general health? How difficult it is to fully appreciate the antecedents of ill-health; the events, conditions and causes – and not only for asylum seekers but for the general population.

To my mind, the medical health system and mental health are separate entities each with their own specialised fields of practice and care, and each with their own expert practitioners. I would like that to be less and less so. I think awareness of mental health issues of dependency and disability or disorder, could be better integrated into our approach overall to health, removing the need to say “…AND mental health”. I hope that’s happening as the relationship between body and mind, is better understood and more appreciated.

A few years ago the World Health Organization (WHO) bought forward a proposition of ‘No health without mental health’. From my small involvement, with issues around the provision health support for asylum seekers, that sort of inclusive approach in the health field is a goal yet to be realised. I hope we get there.