Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds urged to ask for mental health support


Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Thursday, mental health charities and organisations are encouraging culturally diverse groups in Australia to ask for help.

More Australians than ever before are seeking treatment for a mental health condition.

But while the country has come a long way, advocacy groups are warning there is still a long way to go to break down the stigma around asking for help - particularly in some culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Melbourne man Vasan Srinivasan says he understands the concerns.

He grew up in a small, remote village in India about 350 kilometres from Chennai.

“I have seen enough in my younger days that people were suffering at the time, now I can relate to why they were suffering,” he tells SBS News. 

Vasan Srinivasan
Vasan Srinivasan is vice-chairperson of Mental Health Foundation Australia.
SBS News

“I’ve seen aunties in my family with anti-natal depression, which I didn’t understand at the time. We actually isolated them, we locked them up, we didn’t understand what they were going through.

“That really hurts me.”

For the past 26 years, Mr Srinivasan has been dedicating his life to understanding mental health and trying to make a change, so people don’t suffer as his aunties did.

He is now vice-chairperson of Mental Health Foundation Australia, which has more than 300 members in its Multicultural Ambassador Programme.

Mr Srinivasan
Mr Srinivasan says CALD communities can feel uneasy about seeking help.

Mr Srinivasan says generally CALD communities feel uneasy or ashamed about seeking help for mental health issues.

“We would like to send this message to their community groups, mental health is not a stigma, mental health [issues] can be cured,” he said.

Tailored support

Frank Quinlan from Mental Health Australia, Australia's peak body representing mental health organisations, says a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to support.

“In particular communities, whether it's communities that are culturally and linguistically diverse, whether it's communities that have diverse sexualities and genders, whether it's communities that are in diverse locations, workplaces and so forth, the discussion of mental health issues often has to be different in each of those communities because the experience of mental health issues and challenges is different in each of those communities,” he said.

World Mental Health Day is marked each year on 10 October, and Mental Health Foundation Australia is also marking Mental Health Month.

Mr Srinivasan is hosting seminars, marches and forums across Victoria during October, to get people talking.

Mr Quinlan says how we talk about mental health has come a long way since he was a child, but there’s still a long way to go to break the stigma.

Mental health leaders
Mental health leaders come together to discuss the issue in Victoria ahead of World Mental Health Day.
SBS News

Three million Australians are living with depression or anxiety, which is the most common mental health condition, affecting one in four people.

But Dr Grant Blashki from Beyond Blue says one in five of those who actually seek help for anxiety wait longer than six years to do so.

People are seeking help in record numbers though.

“A recent study found GPs say that mental health consultations are their most common consultation now, more common than the common cold, chest infections, back pain,” Dr Blashki said.

“I think that the community discussion has really been evolving.

“People are much more comfortable to talk about mental health, even the 25 years that I've been a GP I've seen quite a change where people will come in quite comfortably and say 'I think I'm having anxiety issues' 'or I think I'm having a depression issue.”

It’s encouraging, he says, and help is always available.

More information about mental health is available at Beyond Helpline (for young people aged 5 to 25) can be reached on 1800 55 1800

Australians experiencing a crisis can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and via, as well as the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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