The American Psychiatric Association (APA), the American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Nurses Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) joined with 14 other mental health organizations to send a letter on June 20, 2018, to Attorney General Jeff Sessions of the US Department of Justice, Secretary Alex Azar of the US Department of Health & Human Services, and Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen of the Department of Homeland Security urging that the administration immediately cease enforcing policies that separate children from their parents at the United States border.1 The current policy is being enacted on immigrants who are caught along with their children trying to cross the border into the United States illegally.

Citing the high degree of stress and possible lifelong trauma children can experience as the result of a forced separation, the mental health organizations also noted that the policy could result in an increased risk for other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as these children mature. Furthermore, they stated that the longer children and parents are separated, the greater the symptoms of anxiety and depression are likely to be.

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The letter to Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Azar, and Secretary Nielsen also noted that an act of Congress is not necessary to change the policy. The organizations stated that they did not find this to be an acceptable policy to counter unlawful immigration. The associations support practical humane immigration policies that take into consideration what is known about the detrimental long-term psychological effects of separation on children and their families.

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  1. American Art Therapy Association, American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, et al. Letter to the honorable Jeff Session, the honorable Alex Azar, and the honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen regarding the separation of children from their parents at the border. June 20, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2018.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. Mental Health Organizations Urge Administration to Halt Policy Separating Children and Parents at U.S. Border [press release]. Published June 20, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor