MIL-OSI Australia: CEO Update: Supporting the mental health of people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities

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Source: Mental Health Australia

Supporting the mental health of people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities

The current political debate around our country’s migration policies has highlighted the importance of us having a community and culture that celebrates and respects diversity; provides a strong sense of belonging and inclusion; and includes a mental health system that supports the needs of all people in Australia, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  

I was delighted to recently attend a meeting of the Embrace Multicultural Mental Health Stakeholder Group, which brought together leaders in multicultural mental health from across health, social, community and research organisations to discuss issues for culturally diverse communities accessing mental health supports in Australia. 

With nearly one in three people in Australia born overseas, and half of us having a parent born overseas, this affects so many people across the country.  

The Stakeholder Group noted the particular impact of current international conflicts on the mental health and wellbeing of communities and families in Australia. They also raised concerns about the challenges of short-term funding for mental health supports – where culturally diverse communities in Australia have previously embraced new initiatives or pilots that improved mental health outcomes, only to see them defunded after 12-24 months. Not surprisingly, this experience can erode community trust in reaching out for support again.  

The group also called out ongoing gaps for newly arrived refugees in accessing general practitioners in a timely and affordable way. Mental Health Australia’s 2023 Report to the Nation found that people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds were less likely to have seen a GP for mental health support than the general population (34% vs 44%, of those who had accessed services). This is concerning given GPs are often the gateway to mental health care.  

People from CALD backgrounds were however more likely than others to seek supports through a church, temple or religious community (11% vs 5%) – which shows the importance of having strong connections and supports available within communities. 

These nuances in supports and service access across communities of different cultural backgrounds are often missing in our national mental health data. In turn, this data gap can prevent us from making changes to improve equity in access and outcomes.  

To address this critical data gap, Mental Health Australia received funding in the 2023-24 Budget to lead a new research project on multicultural mental health and best practice. This project will be commencing shortly.   

In addition to improving data collection, the Embrace Stakeholder Reference Group also affirmed that the ongoing priorities in multicultural mental health remain access to professional interpreters; the need for a culturally capable workforce including bilingual and bicultural workers; easier navigation of the mental health system; and addressing stigma and improving mental health literacy.  

In the face of the current political debate, now is the time to work together to champion the importance of an equitable and inclusive society and mental health system, that ensures that all people in the community can access the supports they need and deserve.  

Carolyn Nikoloski 
CEO, Mental Health Australia 

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