Ruchika Rawat on mental health & preventive steps

By Our Reporter
Ruchika Rawat

That the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health is a no brainer. But as inflation and the cost of living soar, Australians, particularly those from diverse background, are facing the most challenging two years of their lives.

Throwing light on this issue is Ruchika Rawat, an Allied Health professional who works in the public sector. Rawat is also the co-founder and director of non- profit Community Aid Australia Inc. She is involved in multiple community projects such as digital health literacy for seniors, diversity and inclusion advocacy and health sector including the stakeholder engagement groups for Integrated AOD and MH Guidelines as well as EOI for creation of State Trauma Services. She talks to The Indian Sun at length on the raging issue of mental health that is affecting people of Indian origin and those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

How are the current challenges of inflation and rising cost of living impacting people from Indian and CALD backgrounds?

Displacement and problems related to integrating into a new society are a challenge to new migrants and refugees. More settled migrants are also experiencing anxiety, stress and challenge to provide for higher costs for groceries, petrol, utility bills, rent or mortgage re-payments, etc. Everything is going up! This is burdening the wider communities but especially the already stressed communities of migrants and refugees, many of whom are not financial settled in commensurate with the level of their actual skills and work  experience. Many new Indian migrants have to study further to gain an Australian education to be at par. Many have a larger family overseas to provide support as well.

What specifically are the forms of mental health as alse the long-term effects?

The term mental health refers to our mental wellbeing: our emotions, thoughts and feelings, our outlook, our ability to solve problems, cope with difficulties, and maintain social interactions.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life.

Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions. These disorders have certain symptoms and negatively affect a person’s mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of these mental health conditions could be depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and addictive behaviours, schizophrenia.

Untreated mental illness can cause severe emotional, behavioural and physical health problems. Complications sometimes linked to mental illness include:

  • Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
  • Family conflicts
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Social isolation
  • Problems with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs
  • Missed work or school, or other problems related to work or school
  • Legal and financial problems
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Self-harm and harm to others, including suicide or homicide
  • Weakened immune system, so your body has a hard time resisting infections
  • Heart disease and other medical conditions
What are the current statistics?

Over a quarter of a million first-generation adult Australians from CALD backgrounds are estimated to experience some form of mental disorder in a 12-month period, based on the findings of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Between 16 March 2020 and 9 January 2022, almost 25 million MBS-subsidised mental health-related services were processed.

MBS-subsidised mental health services delivered via telephone or videoconference peaked during April 2020 when about half of MBS mental health services were delivered via telehealth. In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, 30.2 per cent of MBS mental health services were delivered via telehealth.

Ruchika Rawat, JNI Melbourne at ACMI, Federation Square on Saturday 26, February, 2022
Broadly speaking, do Indians and CALD communities have a problem talking openly about mental health?

A significant number of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds do not seek help for their mental health problem, or are reluctant to do so. Often, they miss out on suicide prevention services because there is no culturally sensitive/appropriate service available. They may also find it difficult to use mainstream services because of language and cultural barriers. They may be confused about how services operate, or simply be unaware of the range of services and supports that are available. Often, there is an element of stigma attached to the mental health and wellbeing space in these communities.

How does stigma and discrimination on people experiencing mental health problems impact them?

Impacts in not seeking services timely. Ineffective or sometimes harmful coping such as alcohol, gambling etc.

A study funded by the Vic Health by Alcohol Drug Foundation found that there are multiple challenges in Indian community re their perspectives to drinking/gambling/other additive behaviours. This research led to the Connecting Diversity project.

Why is the framework for mental health services a highly complex, particularly for migrants and CALD people?

The differences between the healthcare systems in migrants’ countries of origin and in Australia may play a big role. Mental illness is not treated the same way everywhere. Moreover, mental health services are an array of public and private providers with varied federal, state or territory services. Most Australians with mental health issues access mental health services through their general practitioner or primary care provider, but people who are seriously affected by their illness can be referred to the specialist mental health service system. Generally, the impact or severity of the condition, rather than a specific diagnosis, triggers access to specialist mental health services. Both clinical and non-clinical services (Mental Health Community Support Services) operate in different geographical areas.

How can the government cater to migrants and CALD people in a culturally sensitive manner?

Increase mental health awareness and service providers knowledge in CALD communities

  • Database of bi/multi-lingual providers and community services
  • Improve cultural responsiveness and diversity of the mental health service delivery
  • Co-design with lived experience cohorts—consumers and carers
  • More research into this space
  • More accountability—not only policy intent but actual groundwork and focus on outcomes.
What are the current initiatives?

A key CALD project is the Embrace Project, run by Mental Health Australia which provides a national platform for multicultural communities’ to access resources in different community languages.

Any closing thoughts?

A lot needs to be done, from the intent in the policies to being practised at the grassroots’ level. Department of Health came up with innovative solutions to spread COVID19 information across CALD communities from WhatsApp community leaders’ groups to culturally sensitive translated documents to social media utilisation, bi/ multilingual webinars, roundtables with local CALD champions and emerging leaders. Similarly, now is the time to raise awareness and preventative measures amongst this cohort before it gets too late.

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