Weekly CEO Update from Mental Health Australia: Reflecting on culturally and trauma-informed services for Refugee Week

Image of two people with their foreheads touching

At a time when connection is becoming more and more important it was great to be able to celebrate Refugee Week with a staff lunch – in person this week – to honour the 70.8 million refugees around the world.

Promoted by the Refugee Council of Australia, Refugee Week honours and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.
Refugee Week is also educational and our staff had a conversation over lunch about who refugees are and why they have come to Australia, and outlined many of the challenges refugees face. The hope is that when non-refugees better understand these challenges, they can start to build more supportive, welcoming communities.

This task of building supportive, welcoming communities is important for us all in the mental health ecosystem. Asylum seekers and refugees are much more likely than the general population to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Research over time has also shown that these risks are enduring — they don’t simply stop once someone has resettled.

While mental health risks clearly stem from the experience of incredibly traumatic circumstances like political persecution, violence, civil unrest and being forced to leave a country and family you love, this research also points to the importance of early and ongoing mental health care as people resettle.

Disappointingly, access to care is seriously lacking for this group both on a global and an Australia-wide scale.

Those seeking asylum may live in overcrowded camps and other settings with insufficient shelter and sanitation, or inadequate food and water. These settings can be stressful and unsafe, and can compound mental health risks.

85% of refugees are hosted in developing countries, which may lack the infrastructure to create supportive environments. And then, countries that do have enough resources too often choose not to create supportive environments.

At best, asylum seekers face years of uncertainty. Years of not knowing that their safety for the time being will be permanent. And years without the rights given to citizens for access to essentials.

In this situation it is hard to access healthcare, housing, and other necessities. Australia relies on the pro bono work of professionals working for charities to take care of asylum seekers’ basic needs.

At Mental Health Australia, our work in the social determinants of health tells us these structural issues such as economic stability and housing, like trauma, lead to increased risk of health issues including mental illness.

Everyone has a right to get help in the language they speak. They have a right to work with people who understand their cultural background, and who are truly informed about the traumatic experiences they’ve had. These conditions are necessary for that help to feel safe, and to be empowering. Sadly, finding such culturally informed, trauma-informed services remains difficult.

Mental Health Australia’s Embrace Multicultural Mental Health Project aims to make more accessible services to people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including asylum seekers and refugees. Our tool, the Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia is free and enables organisations to build on their cultural competency.

Beyond this, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre details a range of ways to get involved with supporting and including asylum seekers in Australian life.

Doing this work of supporting and including is fundamental for fostering better mental health in our communities, and that work starts with understanding and empathy.

Have a good weekend.

Leanne Beagley

Taking leave

I am heading off on leave and will see you in July. Harry Lovelock will be Acting CEO for two weeks and then Lachlan Searle will be Acting CEO. They can be contacted at our office and will most certainly keep this weekly update going – with some surprises.
I am sure you will provide them with every support.

Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Mental Health Australia congratulates those recognised in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for their contribution to the sector, including: Maree McCabe, Rob Gordon, Faye McMillan, Julie Stone, Tracy Westerman, Carol Berg, Julie Ann Dempsey, the late Ronald Fenton, Robert Llewellyn-Jones, Adam Lo, Desley Miller, Gerry Naughtin, and Brin Greyner.

Save the date: Grace Groom Memorial Oration

On Wednesday 8 December, Mental Health Australia’s annual Grace Groom Memorial Oration will be delivered by Beyond Blue Chair, The Hon Julia Gillard AC. We are planning an in-person event at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, at 6 for 6.30pm until 9pm (we are also planning for alternative contingencies in the event of changing public health advice related to COVID-19). Register your interest by emailing memberships@mhaustralia.org.


On Wednesday we’ll be attending the Australian Digital Health Agency Electronic Prescriptions Roundtable, while on Thursday we’ll be taking part in the DSS Stakeholder Reference Group meeting.

On Friday we’ll be attending the NDIS Recovery-Oriented Psychosocial Disability Support Project Reference Group meeting.


Member Benefits, Jobs and Profiles

Communicate your news, job vacancies, or upcoming events to more than 5,000 people in the mental health ecosystem weekly.

Mental Health Australia members are invited to send us news, announcements, job vacancies, events or other notices for inclusion in the Weekly CEO Update newsletter. To do so, simply fill out this form by COB each Wednesday for your notice to appear in the newsletter the following Friday.

Member Profiles

Mental Health Coalition of SA Inc
The Mental Health Coalition of South Australia is the peak body for the non-government mental health sector in South Australia. Vision - All South Australians affected by mental illness are receiving the support they need to live well in the community. Mission - To influence the development, range and responsiveness of services to support people affected by mental illness.

Arafmi Ltd
Arafmi is a not for profit community organisation that has been providing quality supports to carers of people with mental illness for over 40 years. We support our carers with services including carer support groups, carer education workshops and a 24-hour support phone line. We also support their loved ones with NDIS services including respite accommodation, support workers and support coordination. The message from Arafmi to our carers is: you are not alone.


Embrace Multicultural Mental Health News

COVID-19 Small Grants Webinar

Multicultural communities can access small grants to help protect their communities against COVID-19. FECCA is holding a small grants webinar today, 25 June, at 1-2pm (AEST) learn more about the small grants program and have your questions answered. Learn more about the grants and webinar here.

COVID-19 vaccine information for multicultural audiences

On 17 June 2021 the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) updated its advice to recommend the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adults aged under 60. An in-language factsheet on this updated COVID-19 vaccine rollout advice has been published on the Department of Health website in 63 languages and shared with multicultural stakeholders and community groups. You can find the translated factsheet on the Department of Health website in 63 languages

Embrace Australia logo (a rectangle with a light and dark purple cultural stripe pattern with "embrace" and stylised outline of the Australian continent in the lower right corner).


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Victorian Mental Health and Wellbeing Act: Update and Engagement

The timeline for public engagement on Victoria’s new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act has been extended to 11.59pm on 1 August 2021. According to Mental Health Victoria, “The extension allows organisations and stakeholders much needed time to prepare thorough responses.” They are welcoming the opportunity to engage more comprehensively with members and stakeholders as they prepare their submission, for more information on their process, you can contact them.

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