I walked out of the psychiatrist's office with the pamphlets I was given shoved at the bottom of my bag, destined to disintegrate among the banana peels and odd receipts. It’s not that I didn’t take my mental health seriously––that’s why I sought an emergency psych appointment in the first place. It’s that their recommended practitioners were all white and the services were unaffordable.
I’ve learnt from past encounters that I need a therapist who I can relate to or at least shares a similar lived experience. My first psychologist was a straight white man working at Headspace Campbelltown and I never even tried to approach the topic of race despite it being a factor in my depression and social anxiety. The following psychologist I had was in Ashfield. He was also white. Just as things were going well, he cancelled on me last minute, embarrassingly triggering my fear of abandonment and I never saw him again. I made some strides years later with my most recent psych, who was white, queer and non-binary. We shared the similar political views and they specialised in sexuality and migrant identities––two issues I needed to address. Unfortunately, I had to stop seeing them because I couldn’t afford it even with the medicare rebates.
I’ve learnt from past encounters that I need a therapist who I can relate to or at least shares a similar lived experience.
I often find myself asking friends in my community whether they have any suggestions for psychologists that work well with people of colour and it’s a common request I see posted on various facebook groups I belong to. I’ve spent hours scrolling through the limited directories online, only to find a sea of white faces.
Newly created resource, Our Directory is finally addressing this problem. Developed by Ben Parangi, a youth worker and community organiser, Our Directory lists mental health practitioners, services and programs across so-called Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand who specifically support black, indigenous folk and people of colour.
According to their instagram page, the community generated spreadsheet serves those “most directly and severely impacted by White Supremacy and the racist systems” surrounding them. It’s a much needed resource that assists in asserting “rights to health, well-being, connection and empowerment.” Additionally, the directory incorporates information such as the languages other than english practitioners speak; whether they have specific lived experiences; their experience supporting marginalised groups; the type of specialist services they provide and the cost and access to their support.
When I first came across this resource on Instagram, I rushed to message Ben to thank him personally, to let him know that I found it to be invaluable and that I’ve been searching for something like this for years. “We all have,” he replied sincerely.
Prior to Our Directory existing, I found myself repeating the same cycle after every bad mental health episode. I’d enter “therapists that work with queer poc” in the search bar and nothing useful would come up except the occasional practitioner typically found in pages eight and upwards of the Google results. Feeling depleted, I’d instead commit to bettering myself without the help of a psychologist. A resource like Our Directory broke this cycle and has removed my sense of helplessness.
Prior to Our Directory existing, I found myself repeating the same cycle after every bad mental health episode.
Emma Albereci, former ABC journalist was made redundant by the national broadcaster in June, and recently tweeted about seeing her psychologist every day since, to treat her anxiety. While seeking help is particularly important after major career changes amidst a global pandemic, I wonder how many of the eight hundred thousand Australians who lost their jobs in April and May alone, are able to afford ongoing services.
Some Our Directory practitioners offer a sliding scale, which reduces the price of their service based on the client’s income levels and individual circumstance. This flexible method was designed to make mental health support more affordable and accessible to vulnerable members of the community. Another alternative to spending upwards of $200 per session, includes using a mental health treatment plan which grants access to ten free sessions within a calendar year.
Besides affordability, there are other barriers that deter culturally and linguistically diverse Australians. For example, mental health is often stigmatised across many cultures making it hard for people to address. The three hundred languages spoken in Australia aren’t reflected in the diversity of practitioners. Indigenous, refugee and asylum seekers encounter psychological distress more than the rest of the population and there may not be enough specialised providers to treat their specific forms of trauma.
I’m now aware there’s a community of practitioners that look like me, live within the same margins and have been trained to work with issues specific to my identity.
Despite existing in the intersection of queer Asian male, I’m university educated and middle class. I hold a lot of privilege that has made it far easier to navigate the complexities of Australia’s mental health system than other vulnerable individuals. Reports of racial discrimination towards Asian-Australians has dramatically increased since the beginning of COVID-19, First Nation’s people are being killed in custody and disproportionately incarcerated, trans women of colour are being murdered, members of the African community in Melbourne continue to be dangerously stereotyped, and national mastheads continue to publish and defend racist portrayals of people of colour.
I’m now aware there’s a community of practitioners that look like me, live within the same margins and have been trained to work with issues specific to my identity. While I’m still on a journey to finding the right support, the emergence of a much needed resource that is culturally considerate and inclusive, provides me the confidence that not all hope is lost and that I can get better.
Martyn Reyes is a Filipino-Australian writer and radio presenter from Sydney. Follow Martyn on Twitter @martyn_reyes and on Instagram @guapo.pwet.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Voices supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_