Migrant communities are less likely to access mental health services

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Almost four million Australians are being diagnosed with mental illness each year. But, there are still multiple barriers stopping people from multicultural backgrounds from seeking mental health help.

Melbourne-based social worker, Sunita, who asked not to use her real name due to fear of being stigmatised, works with migrants and asylum seekers, who are often faced with desperately hopeless situations.

One in five Australians is affected by mental illness each year. The most common mental disorder is anxiety, followed by depression.

“So dealing with people’s lives every day, and human problems, that makes me so stressed and then emotionally, I was just overwhelmed – that’s why I thought that I need the mental health support for myself to balance my work life and personal life.”

Recognising that her stress level was starting to dominate her life, Sunita decided to do something about it. She’s feeling more positive since seeking counselling from beyondblue and has even started doing a PHD on top of working as a social worker and looking after her family.  

“There’s too many things on the plate - that’s why I didn’t expect somebody to give me the solution. I expect some positive vibes, some positive opinions, some positive advice from the counsellor. Then I just went to beyondblue and then if you just follow the strategy, the advice, then definitely you can handle, you can manage your different life aspect.”

Sunita isn’t alone in facing mental health issues. One in five Australians is affected by mental illness each year. The most common mental disorder is anxiety, followed by depression. Dr Stephen Carbone is the Policy, Evaluation and Research Leader of beyondblue. He explains the key indicator of mental illness. 

“Every condition has its own symptoms but a noticeable change and a drop off in the person’s ability to function day-to-day is a signal to go and see someone to get an assessment and possibly to seek treatment.” - Dr Stephen Carbone, beyondblue

Dr Carbone suggests speaking to your GP first to see if you might have a mental health condition.

“Their GP is often a great first port of call to find out a bit more, and to get an assessment, and then potentially to get a referral to see someone like a psychologist or some other mental health expert.”

Hayfa Kaassamani, who works with culturally and linguistically diverse clients at beyondblue, says confidentiality is often a major concern for people from multicultural backgrounds.

“Some families would worry about that. They do have a fear of authority, and that probably stems from something they’ve experienced overseas back home. If they happen to have a mental health condition, they can fear losing their families.”

By law, medical professionals and interpreters are required to keep what you say private. If in doubt, you can always check with your health professional in the first consultation. While revealing one’s mental status can be deeply personal and challenging for many, Dr Carbone says doctors are there to support rather than judge their patients. 

“In some communities more than others, there might still be some blame or shame attached to mental health conditions. We’d like to reassure people that health professionals don't judge them - they understand these are health conditions like any other health condition, and they’re just trying to help them get better and recover and get back to their usual health. So not to be scared, not to be embarrassed, and not to be worried about a loss of confidentiality.”

Mental health care options come at different prices depending on your needs.

“For Australian citizens and permanent residents, the Medicare system provides for that healthcare that is subsidised - whether that's with a GP or a psychologist; but if that person doesn’t necessarily have that status, then they may need to go to some alternative organisation. There’s a number of community health centres and organisations such as asylum seekers resource centre - they try to assist people in the community, who have migrated but don’t have access to Medicare subsidised services.”  

Your general practitioner can explain how to access free or subsidised mental health care, and can also provide a mental health care plan, allowing you to access up to 10 subsidised sessions with a psychologist or a counsellor in a year. 

“GPs vary, some bulk bill. So there’s no charge to the patient, otherwise there’s an out-of-pocket and Medicare covers the rest and likewise, seeing a psychologist through a psychiatrist.”

There are also anonymous options without the need for face-to-face contact through Lifeline, beyondblue or MindSpot Clinic.

“There are now a lot of online programs that can be offered for people experiencing depression and anxiety, where people read and learn about depression or anxiety; work through a series of modules or counselling sessions online by themselves that they might also have a check in with a counsellor once a week over the telephone.”

Dr Carbone says whilst there are ways to manage mental health levels by having adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercise, seeking professional advice is still the best way to overcome mental illness. 

“When the depression is persisting, the anxiety is persisting, it’s interfering with a person’s quality of life, their ability to function and enjoy things, it really is best for them to go and seek professional advice even if that's anonymously over the telephone or through the various websites that offer treatment. Once you make that decision, you’re on the path to recovery.” 

If you’re experiencing mental health issues, call beyondblue’s helpline on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can find out more by visiting the beyondblue or lifeline websites.

If you need language support, call TIS on 131 450 first, then ask for the organisation you’d like to contact.


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