VIEW: Our mental health system must reflect the great cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian population

In Australia, people from a CALD background have a significantly lower level of access to mental health care and support in the wider community, with many not seeking help or support. Following his recent appointment as Multicultural Mental Health Ambassador for the Northern Territory, Mathews David shares his views on the value and role of mental health programs and policies for CALD communities.

  • Why were you originally interested in a career in mental health, and how has that interest changed over time? 

My friends always referred to me as an empathetic and meticulous person and they came to me for their personal issues and it became a profession for me in a later stage.

As a mental health professional, I am making a positive difference in someone’s life, family, and society. There is more work needed to meet the mental health needs of the CALD and indigenous communities of Australia.

  • You have recently been appointed as a  Multicultural Mental Health Ambassador for Northern Territory, Australia. What does this mean to you? 

Australia’s CALD population has unique identities and understanding of mental health and suicide. Quite often, a strong stigma surrounds the individual experiencing mental health issues or suicidal behaviours that may also affect their family, carer, friends and community. Spiritual and religious beliefs may contribute to this stigma, as well as social understanding and attitudes toward mental health and suicide within many cultural communities. As a multicultural mental health ambassador, I have a crucial role to play in terms of advocacy with government and non-governmental sectors to understand the specific needs of CALD mental health.

  • What are your priorities in this role? 

We are only in our early stages for developing CALD mental health. The majority of the service providers do not even understand specific needs of CALD communities. There is a lot to achieve; the key priorities are:

  • Mental health literacy
  • Addressing stigma and shame
  • Health promotion
  • Addressing Policy/ systemic issues
  • Why is CALD mental health particularly important to you? How does this differ to non-CALD mental health?

It’s important to  promote health and reduce illness by the development of culturally appropriate services that cover the spectrum of mental health care from the prevention of mental illness and the promotion of good mental health to treatment, rehabilitation, recovery and relapse prevention. An understanding of the role of culture is vital to the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and is essential for everyone involved with the health and wellbeing of all people in Australia.

Many existing mental health systems and policies have been developed for non CALD communities and are only effective for non CALD communities. The First Nations people’s mental health and suicide statistics are much higher than the general community; government is trying to close that gap but still there is a long way to go. Similarly, CALD communities and leaders need to be consulted to create culturally inclusive service delivery in the health system.

As a side note, our budget gives no substantiative funding to CALD-specific mental health initiatives.

  • If you could change one thing about the current systems that manage mental health in Australia, what would it be? Why?

Cultural competency of the mental health front line workers must be addressed, and cultural competency should be a core business for all service providers. Similarly, systemic issues need to be addressed and culturally appropriate assessments must be readily available in each mental health setting.

About the expert

Mathews David is an experienced Mental health clinician with a special interest in CALD and Indigenous Mental health. He is an experienced Migration agent and Education counsellor for Australia, and was recently appointed as Multicultural Mental Health Ambassador for Northern Territory, Australia.

Image description: Headshot of Mathews – he is looking at the camera wearing a light blue-grey suit with dark tie and light blue collared shirt.