Mental health a top concern for new Australians

Multicultural Health program officers Abulla Agwa, Carly Copolov and Murad Hossain (right) with singer Mary Mamour.

Stress and mental health have been identified as among the top five concerns for migrants and refugees settling within Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

The research was undertaken by Dr Carly Copolov and Abulla Agwa, who joined the WSLHD Multicultural Health team 12 months ago as the first program officers for refugee and African communities respectively.

One of their first tasks was to identify the key health needs for the two priority population groups, and their results overlapped significantly.

“We both found that diabetes, stress, mental health, obesity and blood pressure were the top health concerns for our communities,” Abulla said.

“The mental health needs especially can differ from people born in Australia. There are the stresses of settlement, including finding a job and getting educated while you are still learning functional English. Humanitarian entrants are often concerned for their family overseas and may have experienced trauma. And they also have to deal with changing family dynamics.

“The two groups also have similar issues in accessing quality healthcare such as language, lack of understanding of the Australia health system, and cultural barriers.”

Carly (second from left) and Abulla (third from right) at the African Health Summit in Blacktown.

Their findings have led the pair to work together on several projects this year, including the existing Hello Doctor and women’s health events, a tour of Blacktown Hospital for Arabic-speaking newly arrived women, and new initiatives including computer classes to improve health literacy and Australia’s first African Health Summit.

Last week they ran a Mental Health Month event covering topics including depression, mindfulness and stress relief, with the support of Transcultural Mental Health and other organisations including Blacktown City Council, SydWest Multicultural Services, Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency, Anglicare and LikeMind.

Abulla said it was a great example of how Multicultural Health works with a range of services to get the best outcomes.

“The collaborations and the partnerships are working really well because we all want to help people access healthcare. Health affects everything in life. You can’t work or get an education or enjoy life without taking care of your health,” Abulla said.

“We just want to make sure migrants and refugees can get the same quality healthcare as everyone else.”

Carly said they are keen to work with staff across the district to improve communication with people from different backgrounds.

“Culturally and linguistically diverse people often have sophisticated understanding of their own health, but if they are not literate in any language then their options for accessing help are limited,” Carly said.

“To make our health system more accessible we need to think outside the box and consider different options such as images, interpreters and bilingual healthcare workers.”

For those interested in learning more about cross-cultural communication, all staff are welcome to attend a free presentation and Q&A this week with Fullbright Scholar Dr Mara Adelman from Seattle University.

Dr Adelman will be speaking from 11am-12pm in the lecture theatre at Western Sydney University Medical School’s Blacktown Hospital campus on Wednesday November 6, and from 12-1pm in the Westmead Education & Conference Centre flexible teaching room on Friday November 8.

To find out more or work with Multicultural Health, call Blacktown Community Health Centre on 9881 8700.