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Multicultural mental health

People from multicultural backgrounds may be at greater risk of experiencing mental health difficulties and suicide and face barriers to accessing services and supports.

Those who do not speak English, including the most recently arrived, refugees and asylum seekers may be more vulnerable to risk factors.

The Commission has also been advised by non-government organisations that support people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds that a number of structural barriers influence access to services. These include continually changing government policy, for example:

  • access to interpreters when seeking help from primary health care
  • health and support services generally not being tailored to reflect diverse cultural understandings of mental health
  • a lack of nationally consistent robust data to identify and respond to the individual needs of different CALD communities.

Review of Mental Health in Multicultural Australia

The Australian Government established Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHiMA) in 2003 to provide a range of national activities designed to raise community and professional awareness regarding the mental health issues experienced by people from CALD backgrounds.

In 2015-16, the Australian Government funded a review of MHiMA to be undertaken by the Mental Health Council of Australia. The review sought to examine the effectiveness, suitability and sustainability of the model, including identifying alternative strategies to address need and the future delivery.

Submission on multicultural mental health

The Commission’s submission, MHiMA Future Directions, February 2016 to the review supported the continuation of a national entity with a collaborative governance model to:

  • provide advice to government
  • support programs and services to ensure they are accessible and responsive
  • increase awareness in the CALD communities of the services and supports that are available.

The submission was supported by Mental Health Commissions in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

Australian government response

Mental Health Australia submitted recommendations to the Australian Government for consideration in March 2016.

In November 2016 the Minister for Health advised that the Australian Government would continue to support the MHiMA Project beyond December 2016, and a targeted competitive approach to market would be undertaken in 2017 to determine the most appropriate project lead for the longer term. 

Current MHiMA Project activities will be completed by 31 December 2016. Mental Health Australia will continue to maintain the MHiMA website, including the Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia elements, while the process to determine the future project lead is undertaken.