Mental health from a cultural perspective

Moving to another country is very challenging! For some people coming to Australia from non-English speaking backgrounds it can be especially hard.

Many have come from difficult circumstances leaving them emotionally fragile at a time when they are leaving family and all that is familiar behind them - add to this learning a new language or new ways of going about their day-to-day lives.

For some people coming from a country that has suffered conflict can leave deep emotional scars. While we understand the trauma caused by guns and bombs it is also important to recognise that refugee camps alone can be the source of trauma.

Seeing a parent humiliated, for example, can cause deep and long-lasting distress for children which can take years to overcome. Also settling into Australian life can bring feelings of isolation, fear of the future and grief for the life they have lost.

So, what can we do to help?

You might sense a neighbour or work colleague from a non-English speaking background is emotionally distressed or have a younger relative who is not coping, but you are not sure what to do.  It is okay to ask what is going on but remember emotional distress can be shameful for them and their family, hence we need to be sensitive.

Some people will report 'a sadness' or even list physical symptoms like stomach and head aches which can all indicate deeper emotional problems that may spiral into something more serious.

Tell them that in Australia it is okay to talk about these problems and there are services that can help, like headspace (12-25 years).

However, treating mental illness can be an unknown concept and may be scary for many people so it helps to explain a few things to make it easier. Some people fear police brutality, so explaining that doctors and places like headspace work independently can help.

Attending most headspace services is free, does not require a Medicare card, a GP referral or depend on any visa restrictions. Young people can come in with their family for support and added understanding.

At headspace we are aware of the cultural and spiritual needs of people and work hard to make everyone feel listened to and comfortable.  We all want to make our community a better place to live and see young people thrive.

Caroline Webber, headspace

CALD engagement worker