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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 20 March 2018) . . Page.. 773 ..

indeed, John and family. Thank you, members, for allowing me to say that from the chair.

Mental health—multicultural communities

MRS KIKKERT (Ginninderra) (5.39): As is often mentioned in this chamber, we live in a richly multicultural city, with 32 per cent of residents born overseas and another 15 per cent having at least one parent who was born overseas. A non-English language is spoken in nearly 24 per cent of Canberra’s households.

The prevalence of mental health issues in Australia’s multicultural communities is no greater than in the population at large, but Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse, CALD, backgrounds face specific challenges. Concepts associated with mental health sometimes do not exist in other languages or backgrounds. Psychiatric nurse Sione Vaka has noted that there is no direct translation in some Pacific languages for the word “depression”. Fatima Mohamed has pointed out that the phrase “mental health” does not even occur in Somali. “In Somalia, you’re either crazy or you’re okay,” she added. “Even if they’re sick, they won’t tell you what’s wrong. They keep it in until it’s really bad.”

This illustrates another obstacle. Whilst stigmas surrounding mental illness are common, these stigmas are often more pronounced in CALD communities and need to be specifically targeted. At the same time, it is essential that the help provided is culturally competent. This goes far beyond just token access to interpreters.

It is good when mental health practitioners can amplify “cultural concordance” between themselves and their CALD patients. Psychiatrist Siale Foliaki calls this practising “from a place of intimacy”, where he can be “enmeshed in [a] client’s world”.

But a perfect match is not always possible. Another option is when mental health practitioners are able to leverage “their [own] ethnicity, religion, experience practising overseas, speaking languages other than English and/or existing cultural knowledge and experience to effectively communicate with their … patients”.

Professionals who come from a non-dominant culture or who have lived where they were part of a non-dominant culture often find it easier to relate to patients from a variety of multicultural backgrounds. As one doctor reported:

Having lived myself in another situation where you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand the culture and everything, I guess it makes me a bit more patient and also makes me try and understand where they are coming from so that I can better communicate with them.

For this reason, policy in New South Wales states:

Diversity in the local population needs to be reflected in the skill base and composition of the mental health workforce.

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