CEO Update: Mental health and stigma in multicultural Australia

Mental health and stigma in multicultural Australia

A colleague I know travels to Italy for Christmas every ‘even’ year. They travel to see relatives and friends, to immerse themselves in their culture, especially the food, and to introduce new family members to the ‘old’ country (their words, not mine). Sadly, this trip clearly won’t happen in 2020. It is an example of a tradition that, like millions of others, will be impacted by the global pandemic.

For the 49% of Australians born overseas, or with one or more parent/s being born overseas, cultural ties to the rest of the world stretch wide and far. While Australia has been at the forefront of keeping the pandemic at bay, many have still had to live and work knowing that extended family have not been so lucky in other parts of the world.

This will have had and will continue to have a huge impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians.

However, even before the pandemic we know from our work on Embrace Multicultural Mental Health (the Embrace Project) that if you are from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD), there were already many challenges that make looking after your mental health a difficult thing to do.

The first of those challenges, and the biggest barrier of them all, are the varied cultural stigmas that stop people from seeking the help they need.

In SANE Australia’s recent National Stigma Report Card they drilled down into the stigma attached to mental health and belonging to a culturally specific group.

The report highlighted that “Cultural, faith or spiritual communities can be important places for people to access social support, to experience a sense of belonging. The structures and rituals they provide can provide comfort and meaning for many. Regardless of an individual’s personal beliefs, it is important that people who live with complex mental health issues can participate in the cultural, faith or spiritual practices and communities that are important to them.”

It goes without saying then that as many of these opportunities to gather as larger communities this year have been restricted, the mental health impact of not being able to connect will be lasting.

Sadly this is also not necessarily a new thing for many people. Because we know even before the pandemic, many already felt isolated from their own communities because of their culture’s pre-existing stigma towards mental illness.

This issue was also acknowledged in the SANE National Stigma Report Card, where close to 40% of participants reported experiencing some level of stigma or discrimination in cultural, faith or spiritual practices and communities during the last 12 months

“I left my spiritual community because of mental health issues, and was not allowed back in because these issues are ongoing.– Our Turn to Speak participant, Victoria

Additionally, 63% of participants said they had stopped themselves from participating in their cultural, faith or spiritual practices and communities because of stigma about mental health issues. 

“I am always left feeling like I am not accepted for my mental illness. ‘God will fix my mental illness’ is the subtle message I keep feeling when connecting with people in this community, but I believe I have been given my illness for a reason; to help others. By having this belief I am going against what they believe and thus don’t feel accepted.” - Our Turn to Speak participant Western Australia

“Mental illness is seen as a symptom of lack of faith and/ or demonic possession. Tired of people trying to cast demons out of me and also seeing my sexual orientation as a symptom of mental illness.” Our Turn to Speak participant, Australian Capital Territory

Clearly there is work to do in breaking down stigma related to mental ill-health in the many diverse communities and cultures in which we live in Australia.

To aid and fast-track this work, mental health services must be able to provide timely, culturally responsive services that ensure people from CALD backgrounds receive the support they need. And they must feel welcoming to all.

The Embrace Project aims to address these issues in two broad pillars.

Firstly, increasing the mental health literacy of migrant and refugee communities through translated resources, community forums and a CALD Mental Health Consumer and Carer Group.

Secondly, it is important that when people from diverse backgrounds reach out for support, that the help they receive incorporates their cultural, linguistic and religious/spiritual needs. The Embrace Project delivers and promotes the Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia which guides mental health services through a coordinated way to evaluate and develop culturally responsive services.

In order to provide quality services, we need to reach out to CALD communities, families and individuals, and we need to offer support and ensure that our response is both relevant and useful. To find out more go to

Furthermore, Mental Health Australia has been invited to represent the mental health ecosystem at the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities COVID-19 Health Advisory Group at the Commonwealth Department of Health, which will only strengthen our daily work through the Embrace Project.

Have a good weekend

Leanne Beagley



On Monday I will be meeting with the Consumer Health Forum and the Royal Australian College of General Practionners to progress our shared work on social prescribing. Later I will be participating in a Roundtable on Governance and Coordination of National Elements as part of the consultation for the renewal of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy Renewal. 

On Tuesday I will be meeting with OT Australia and later Georgie Harman, the CEO of Beyond Blue.

On Thursday I have a meeting with National Disability and Carers Alliance, and our monthly catch up with the Department of Health, mental health team.

On Friday I have two key meetings – Primary Care Reform and the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy.


Embrace Multicultural Mental Health News

The Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (the Framework) is a free, nationally available online resource which allows organisations and individual practitioners to evaluate and enhance their cultural responsiveness. It has been mapped against national standards to help you meet your existing requirements, with access to a wide range of support and resources. 


Mental Health News

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Invitation for responses to submissions made by Counsel Assisting

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Member Profiles

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JobCo Employment Services Inc
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NAIDOC Week 2020

National NAIDOC Week 2020 celebrations will be held from the 8-15 November.

The November dates follow the decision by the National NAIDOC Committee (NNC) to postpone NAIDOC Week from the original July dates due to the impacts and uncertainty from the escalating COVID-19 pandemic across communities and cities.

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held around the country each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The week is celebrated not just in Indigenous communities but also in increasing number of government agencies, community organisations, local councils, workplaces, schools and sporting groups.

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National Memorial for Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse – Survey

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The survey, and accompanying information paper, will be available for viewing or downloading from 2 November 2020 at  The survey is anonymous and open to anyone to complete.  

The survey will open at 9:00am AEDT on Monday 2 November 2020 and close at 11:59pm AEDT on Sunday 22 November 2020.

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Prevention United webinar series

Prevention United has announced three new sessions in the “Coming out of Covid” webinar series in November to discuss three major social determinants of mental ill-health - income support, homelessness and unemployment. They have joined forces with speakers from three leading organisations (Charmaine Crowe from the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Jenny Smith from the Council to Homeless Persons, and Professor Shelley Mallett from the Australian Council of Social Services [ACOSS]) for these free daytime sessions. 

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National Disability Strategy - National Disability Conference Initiative

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