Why transcultural mental health is important

22-May-2014

Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHiMA) have developed a Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia, Towards culturally inclusive service delivery that aims to support mental health services to improve their cultural responsiveness in service planning, delivery and evaluation.  An extensive literature review was conducted in the development of this framework, and the following section highlights the existing research and issues related to transcultural mental health as identified by MHiMA (2014).

MHiMA (2014) identify that there are "considerable gaps in the data and information on the prevalence of mental illness in people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds and their experiences with the health system.  Data collection systems used by mental health services are often not adequately equipped to capture data on cultural and linguistic diversity.  In addition, culturally and linguistically diverse populations are not often included in national mental health research".

Despite the gaps and limitations, MHiMA (2014) highlight that available data indicates "that the mental health experiences and outcomes of first and second generation immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and their families are different to those of other Australians".  More specifically, the literature review undertaken by MHiMA (2014) highlights that:

  • Generally people from migrant and refugee backgrounds utilise mental health services less than the Australian born population.  Barriers to access include:
  • greater stigma about mental illness in some CaLD communities
  • language barriers
  • cultural misunderstandings
  • limited knowledge of mental health and other available services when compared with the Australian born population
  • These barriers make it harder for people to access mental health services when needed, resulting in higher acute and involuntary admissions.
  • People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are over-represented in involuntary admissions and acute inpatient units, and are more likely to be exposed to quality and safety risks.  These risks include misunderstandings and misdiagnosis and they are often the result of language and cultural barriers.
  • Other factors contributing to increased risk of mental ill health in culturally and linguistically diverse populations include:
  • Low proficiency in English
  • Loss of close family bonds
  • Racism and discrimination
  • Stress of migration and adjustment to a new country
  • Trauma before migration
  • Limited opportunity to fully utilise occupational skills.
  • Factors that can be protective of mental health for some people can include:
  • Religion
  • Strong social support
  • Better English proficiency
  • Suicide rates for first generation immigrants tend to reflect the rates of suicide in their country of birth, however rates for subsequent generations of immigrants tend to become more reflective of the rates for the Australian born population.  Research indicates that strong family bonds, religion and traditional values were associated with lower suicide risk in some communities.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers are at greater risk of developing mental health problems and suicidal behaviours than the general Australian population.  Prolonged detention is associated with poorer mental health in asylum seekers, particularly among children.

For further information about the above points and details of the references, please refer to MHiMA 2014.

The Phoenix Centre, a program of the Migrant Resource Centre (Southern Tasmania), receives funding from the Crown, through the Department of Health and Human Services, to provide the Tasmanian Transcultural Mental Health Network

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