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Migrants’ mental health care needs probing

10 June 20160 comments

People from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds face numerous barriers when it comes to accessing mental health care in Australia, according to new research.

Language barriers, intercultural differences, knowledge of available services, and cultural stigma surrounding mental health are some of these barriers preventing access to timely and appropriate mental health care, the research says.

Migrant-health picNew data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed people born overseas who speak a language other than English at home are far less likely to use mental health services.

This highlights the “tremendous challenge” for experts, especially for new arrivals who have often had extremely traumatic experiences prior to their migration to Australia.

As the federal election campaign rolls on, Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan believes the “tremendous challenge” of accessible mental health care is often a forgotten area of government policy.

“Culturally and linguistically diverse groups are one of the last groups in that forgotten few,” Mr Quinlan said.

Government initiatives such as The Multicultural Mental Health Australia (MMHA), funded by the Department of Health, have been funded based on this identified continuing need for equitable access to mental health services for a range of population groups.

It was designed to raise community and professional awareness that would support a national focus on the mental health issues specifically facing people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The department’s review of the project in 2009 however found it was “out of step” with the reality of recent changes in the multicultural mental health landscape, not considering newer immigrants markedly different profiles.

A lack of baseline data on the mental health needs of these communities was attributed to this lack of understanding. Professor Harry Minas, head of the Global and Cultural Mental Health Unit and the University of Melbourne, believes this dearth of data makes it difficult to say for certain if people were under-utilising services.

“There is potentially a big problem. But the details of what the problem actually is… the research hasn’t been funded, it hasn’t been done,” Professor Minas said.

The 2009 review of MMHA also noted that the performance indicators of the project are highly quantitative and process output focussed. It was concluded that more qualitative and outcome focussed indicators for MMHA, or other future projects, were urgently needed.

More recently, the Department of Health has engaged Mental Health Australia to manage the Mental Health in Multicultural Australia Project (MHiMA) until December 31, 2016.

The Project provides a national focus for advice and support to providers and governments on mental health and suicide prevention for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, highlighting the role that culture can play in the provision of appropriate and accessible mental health care.

The MHiMA Project has progressed activities such as establishing and engaging with a Project Advisory Group that includes representation of all jurisdictions, culturally and linguistically diverse consumers and carers, and their views and expertise outside the mental health sector.

Such activities should hopefully provide the Department with the qualitative baseline data that is so desperately needed.

The Department is currently considering the recommendations report put forward about the future of the Project.


Laurie Nowell
Ames Australia Senior Journalist