The federal government is spending $3.9 million on multicultural mental health.

The federal government is spending $3.9 million on multicultural mental health. Source: Getty

EXCLUSIVE: A new $3.9 million project will provide mental health support to Australians from multicultural backgrounds.

Leading health and multicultural organisations are uniting to tackle “huge” mental health gaps in Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Mental Health Australia, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) will team up to deliver a new multicultural mental health project with $3.9 million from the Department of Health. 

CEO of Mental Health Australia Frank Quinlan told SBS News that mental health issues can be particularly severe among people from CALD backgrounds, but many are missing out on necessary services.

“People from CALD backgrounds have often experienced trauma before they left their country of origin. They may have also experienced trauma as part of the migration process,” he said.

They’re adjusting to a new country … There are language barriers and cultural barriers.

CEO of Mental Health Australia Frank Quinlan

“They’re adjusting to a new country. They may have lost family bonds or their family bonds may be different. There are language barriers and cultural barriers … And they often face racism and discrimination.”

Mr Quinlan said that despite these challenges, there remain “huge” gaps in access to mental health services.

He said that people who are born overseas, or have one or both parents born overseas, make up 50 per cent of the Australian population. However, they only make up eight per cent of those accessing subsidised mental health services.

Mr Quinlan also told SBS News people from CALD backgrounds are overrepresented when it comes to “involuntary” hospital admissions for “acute” mental health issues. This means “people from CALD backgrounds aren’t getting help until quite late”.

Stigma, discrimination and misdiagnosis

Chairperson of FECCA Mary Patetsos said the new alliance will help address these concerns.

“We know that people from CALD backgrounds can experience a number of unique challenges when accessing the mental health system,” she told SBS News.

“These challenges are complex and include stigma and discrimination, misdiagnosis, services that are not well equipped to respond to CALD communities’ needs, language barriers, limited awareness of the supports available and trauma experiences.

“That’s why it’s important that experts from across the mental health, multicultural and disability sectors come together with CALD consumers and carers to tackle these significant issues.”

In a statement, NEDA CEO Dwayne Cranfield said the timing of the announcement was “vital … with the advent of Primary Health Networks and the National Disability Insurance Scheme”.

“A national focus on multicultural mental health will ensure that people from CALD backgrounds are not forgotten in reform efforts and that mental health services are working with CALD communities in an equitable way,” he added.

In announcing the $3.9 million of federal funding, Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the project will “ensure that our mental health system reflects and responds well to Australia’s diverse population and that quality and culturally-responsive care is available to everyone when they need it most”.

“Australia’s multicultural community has contributed to the success of our country and this investment reflects the fact that mental health services need to be delivered in culturally-appropriate ways.”

More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

This piece by Nick Baker was originally published on ‘SBS News‘, May 4 2018.

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