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Migrants not utilising mental-health services in Australia, says report

depressed girl Source: Getty Images

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that only 6% of migrants used at least one mental-health service suggests.

Health experts are calling the finding disappointing but not surprising.

Dr Ganeshan Duraiswamy of Delmont Private Hospital says these figures are entwined with language groups, cultural backgrounds and these cultures look at mental illnesses.

Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan says - "It sort of really confirmed what many of us already know, which is to say that people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds simply may be unaware of services or simply may be trying to access services that are just not culturally appropriate. And I think, in either of those cases, it's very disappointing."

Frank Quinlan adds that the challenges are varied and multifaceted - "It's not surprising that people without that English-speaking background may simply not be aware of the services that are available. But for those that do get through the door, then I think there's a concern that those services might not be culturally sensitive, might not have appropriate translation services in place, may well be barriers to people having any sort of ongoing connection to those services. So I think it's fair to say that the barriers are at a number of levels and really have to be addressed at a number of levels if they're going to be overcome."

The latest findings from the Australian Bureau of Statistics mapped the use of subsidised mental-health services against users' cultural backgrounds.

It found just 6 per cent of the migrant population sought help for mental illness in 2011, much lower than people born in Australia who speak English at home.

The Bureau of Statistics' Michelle Ducat says the difference is significant - "People who were born overseas who spoke a  language other than English at home, these people were actually much less likely to use a mental-health service, particularly between the ages of 15 to 54. So the rate of use for that particular group of people is around 6 per cent, whereas, if you compare that to the rate for people who speak English at home, whether or not they were born overseas, the rate of mental-health service use is 10 per cent. So there's quite a significant difference."

The findings come as mental-health advocate and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry has pummelled both major parties at the National Press Club.

Professor McGorry called for the creation of a mental-health minister to address what he says is a failure to put mental health on the agenda - "I've been reflecting a lot about this. I think we need our own mental-health minister. We had ... I mentioned Christopher Pyne ... he was a mental-health minister, did a good job. We had Mark Butler, who also did a very good job under Julia Gillard. Things progressed in that situation. When you have a health minister worried about Medicare freezes and hip surgery and God knows what else, mental health gets put on the backburner."

 He also urged the government to return mental health to the prime minister's portfolio - "It also needs to be put under the prime minister's direct vision, whoever the prime minister ends up being. And the National Mental Health Commission, which was originally set up in relation to Prime Minister and Cabinet, not Health, needs to go back there. It was put back into Health, and it really needs ... it's a whole-of-government issue, mental health, not just Health."

Frank Quinlan says Mental Health in Multicultural Australia is a federally funded program providing advice and support to people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

But the program is only funded temporarily.

 He says secured funding is needed - "Putting programs like those onto a much surer footing goes some way towards developing the sorts of resources that we will need into the future if we're to really address the mental health of culturally and linguistically diverse groups."

Dr Ganeshan Duraiswamy says creating awareness amongst migrant communities in relation to mental illnesses is the biggest challenge and need of the hour.