New Zealand
Asian cultural awareness programme for mental health professionals
May 1, 2005 - 9:53:38 PM

Researchers at The University of Auckland School of Population Health have developed a cultural awareness training programme to help mental health workers better respond to the needs of Asian people.

The programme has been developed for the Mental Health Workforce Development Programme and the Health Research Council of New Zealand and will be trialled later this year in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Dr Samson Tse, Director of the Centre for Asian Health Research and Evaluation at the School of Population Health, who led the study, says Asian people are a significant ethnic population in New Zealand, and some face specific mental health issues.

“Recent research findings show that immigrants and refugees face particular issues such as social isolation, language barriers, family disruption, underemployment and stigmatisation. They are the new New Zealanders. It is important that everyone has good access to mental health services and receives effective and satisfactory health care,” he says.

Dr Tse says that as the New Zealand population becomes more diverse the need for culturally appropriate health services is becoming paramount.

“The most compelling reason is the unfavourable outcomes and under-utilisation of mental health services by ethnic groups, when compared with the general New Zealand population. This programme would be an important first step to help mental health service providers address the needs of different ethnic groups.”

This is the first programme to address the needs of Asian people at a national level although there have been several local initiatives, including the work done by the Transcultural Mental Health team in Auckland District Health Board and the Asian Health Support Service in the Waitemata District Health Board.

Dr Tse says learning cultural awareness would encompass an appreciation of how variations in culture and background may affect health care.

The educational programme would pay close attention to specific groups of people within the Asian population who are seen to have the highest need - those for whom English is not their first language, refugees - especially those who have experienced torture and trauma, older people, women with young children and international students.

The programme will not only identify the issues these groups might face, but also shed light on what mental health practitioners can do in those circumstances.

The training will be offered to psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, community support workers, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists and general practitioners.

Once the trial is completed Dr Tse says he hopes the training programme will become an integral part of professional continuing education programmes for mental health practitioners and incorporated into undergraduate training.

Dr Tse says his team recognised that Asian people within New Zealand came from many different cultural, religious and political backgrounds.

“We recognise that there will be many differences in terms of what is appropriate for these groups, but within our study we also found many common themes, primarily the importance of working with family, the stigma attached to mental health issues, and the cultural beliefs behind that.”

Dr Tse says the awareness programme would also touch on the role of traditional medicines, health practices and healers.

“We still have no clear idea how prevalent these practices are in New Zealand, or the credentials of the practitioners but the programme will ensure people are aware of their presence.”

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