Migrants share experiences of mental illness to break down stigma

Stigma around mental illness is greater within some of Australia’s migrant communities but one group of carers is speaking out about their experiences in an effort to break down taboos.

Mental Health stock image


For those living with a mental health illness, speaking about it can be difficult.

And for the migrant carers trying to help their loved ones, it’s not any easier.

A film project, titled "Our Voices" has captured the difficulties migrant communities face when acknowledging mental illness in the family.

In five different languages – Vietnamese, Arabic, Dari, Turkish and Somali – carers from different cultures spoke about their similar struggles.

Refugee Mr Ly came to Australia by boat from Vietnam in 1980. He left his family behind and did not see them again for 11 years.

"Most of them had the same problems or different kind of problems but we were hiding from each other, maybe because our common background was Turkish."
When reunited with his son, it took him some time to realise he was living with a mental illness.

"When I found out that my son had a problemit was a big shock for me," he said. "I didn't expect that."

It was a shock too for Somali refugee Amina when her brother began acting differently.

"He did not think he was sick. He thought that he was chosen by God," she said.

"He used to slap and kick my little daughter."

The short films aimed to break the stigma and language barriers that can prevent migrant communities from seeking treatment, something Mr Ly experience with his son.

"Because of his illness, he did many things that upset everyone; things that made me feel uncomfortablehat are repressed in my mind," he said. "It was so difficult for me."

When Turkish migrant Kevser’s daughter started isolating herself from primary school classmates, Kevser didn’t want to acknowledge anything was wrong.

Kevser's struggle with English didn’t help and there was nowhere to turn within her community.

"I have acquaintances, they have children as well," she said. "Most of them had the same problems or different kind of problems but we were hiding from each other, maybe because our common background was Turkish."

Leyla Altinkaya had seen her mother struggle with her sister's depression and panic attacks, which stemmed from earlier learning difficulties.

"She gets anxiety attacks, and she goes in and out of depression herself," Ms Altinkaya said.

"Even we couldn't sleep, thinking about the bullying and the depression that she was going through."

"Our Voices" producer Silvana Izzo, from Victorian Transcultural Mental Health, hoped the films would help increase resources for sufferers from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

"Many of these stories are told at home, at the kitchen table, in a mosque in a church, and they don't see the light of day," she said.

The families said they participated in the film project to try to encourage others to speak out.

"If I had come across a friend who had been in my situation, what I would have said is 'Don't be embarrassed'," Kevsar said.

"Let no one suffer from what I have suffered. Never be late."

3 min read
Published 31 October 2014 at 6:01pm
By Sarah Abo