When it comes to mental illness within migrant and refugee communities, many are faced with a shame that forces them to retreat rather than seek help.
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21 Mar 2014 - 7:47 PM  UPDATED 21 Mar 2014 - 9:20 PM

A series of short films made for and by migrant communities has been released to coincide with Harmony Day.

The project aims to unshackle the stigma by showing the personal journey to recovery of 10 individuals.

Kim Ling Chau came to Australia 31 years ago. She knows all too well the struggles that people within the migrant community can face.

Fluent in Mandarin and English, Kim has taken the opportunity to share her battle with mental illness in the hope it will encourage others to seek help.

"Let the Chinese culture know that this is not shame, this is part of our life, our history, so we have to face it.

"It's not the end of the world, you still can enjoy your life."

She overcame her depression through laughter yoga and cooking, a journey she chronicles in her short film.

"After my mental breakdown, I found I was lost, and couldn't concentrate on anything.

"I started to make origami fish...to calm myself down."

She says the stigma surrounding mental health is deeply rooted within her culture.

But it's not just restricted to the Chinese community.

Maria Dimopoulos was born in Melbourne to Greek parents. She shares a similar experience in her Greek heritage.

In her film, she reflects on the difficulties she encountered from childhood through to adulthood.

"My upbringing has conditioned me, as a female, to care for my parents," Ms Dimopoulos said.

"This role, over the years, has inhibited my growth."

As a carer and artist, Maria was able to overcome the challenges of her mental illness.

She says talking about her problems empowered her and made her more resilient.

"Everyone's got a different journey, a different story to tell and it's something we need to do frequently."

From Chinese and Greek to German and Sri Lankan, these short films are made by migrants and refugees for migrants and refugees.

By commissioning the project, MHiMA, or Mental Health in Multicultural Australia, aims to highlight the struggles of multicultural communities, focusing on youth mental health and suicide prevention.

Project coordinator Dr Erminia Colucci is a research fellow at Melbourne University's Centre for International Mental Health.

She says the powerful visual medium of film helps migrant communities better express themselves.

"Film is a very important instrument to challenge stigma, to get people's attention."

MHiMA says aside from the cultural and language barriers, there's not enough comprehensive and reliable data available, to improve migrant and refugee access to mental health services.

Associate Professor Harry Minas is the chair of MHiMA and says more research into migrant mental health is needed.

"There are a lot of problems. People when they migrate confront a lot of challenges and refugees certainly confront a lot of challenges.

"We don't know enough about the actual experience."

Released to coincide with Harmony Day, Dr Colucci says the film project is the first of its kind in the country.

"We felt that there is not much understanding about what actually are the experiences of mental illness of people from a migrant, refugee background but even more so, what are their journeys of recovery."

And she hopes this conversation will continue.

"It's a starting point, we are hoping to do more, to have more voices that are shared and are listened to."