Shakti perspectives: Charishma
Mental health initiatives for people from CALD backgrounds can't take a "one size fits all" approach. For that very reason, it's important that any supports, programs, and initiatives must have the target communities themselves at their center - they need to be with and by the people who need/use them rather than 'for' them. There is an acknowledgment that mainstream Australian services could, and should, be doing a lot more when it comes to addressing the mental health and well-being needs of CALD populations.
I don't really believe that the supports we have at the moment account for the multifaceted needs of ethnic communities - i.e. there are people who have lived in Australia for decades that still struggle with a language barrier, there are others that struggle with inter-generational differences, those whose families have a very different understanding of the world than they do, etc.
I'm really excited by the platforms and spaces that are being created on social media for conversations about mental health and wellbeing - as well as the many factors that can affect mental health! However, as someone who works professionally in this space, I know that it's really important to have conversations and initiatives with a grounding in evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, there is limited research available on mental health awareness, attitudes and initiatives in South-Asian/Australian populations.
This is very different to places like the UK, US and Canada. I would really like to see more attention paid to developing an evidence base because this would drive funding for programs or initiatives targeting South Asian mental health, because we know that our experience in terms of mental health is different to the mainstream.
Showing vulnerability or anything that may be perceived as a 'weakness' is generally discouraged within many CALD communities, not just the South Asian community. I feel like there is this idea that showing any 'flaws' will prevent you from being successful, which is of particular concern for migrant parents. This is not just in relation to mental health though. I remember that, after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a teenager, I was discouraged from speaking openly about it, showing outward signs of it, etc.
In south Asian communities, there's also this idea that anything unpleasant or difficult that happens in life is due to karma or fate - so essentially we bring it upon ourselves. Which is really harmful to reaching out for help. Some other common beliefs about the causes of mental health issues include black magic or bad parenting, which presents a big barrier to having open, honest and healthy conversations about many things, but in particular, mental health and well-being.
It's actually fascinating to me that within South Asian communities there are lots of mental health professionals, but few constructive conversations about mental health. I think there has to be both - conversations aren't successful if they are not a two-way street. It's hard, but I think really shifting this idea that having mental health issues equates to lack of success or that it limits your potential is important.
Liverpool (NSW) is home to one of the largest public hospitals in the southern hemisphere, which includes it's own mental health unit. There is also a local headspace centre and local mental health professionals accessible through Government funded and NFP programs. However, as is the case throughout Australia, the demand for such services often outweighs availability. We have a young population, are home to a large refugee community and a very culturally diverse population. The challenge is to ensure that mental health resources not only exist, but that the community is aware of them, and that mental health literacy is improved.
My self-care involves watching k-dramas/listening to k-pop, letting it go in a Zumba class and reading a good book with a cup of tea. I also have a couple of very close friends who live interstate so even in the pre-social distancing age, we'd have regular video chats, and sessions where we'd virtually do activities together!
I think both my personal and professional experiences with mental health have demonstrated the importance of having a support network that is non-judgemental and allows you to be vulnerable. I meet people all the time and I'm constantly amazed by the uniqueness of people - their personalities, their hobbies and interests, etc. Everyone has their struggles, at different points in their lives but, not everyone is going to understand, or help, so choose your supports - and that support could come in a variety of unexpected ways. I feel like my experiences have made me more open to not only sharing my vulnerabilities, but also listening and learning from others.