Tailored mental health services needed for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds: report

Young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds need tailored mental health services and therapies that are appropriate, effective and culturally relevant, a new report has found.

The report, Responding together: Multicultural young people and their mental health, a collaboration between Orygen and the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), found that young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in Australia had a wide range of personal experiences and some could have multiple challenges associated with settling in a new country.

These could include, dislocation and disrupted support networks, adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language, developing a new sense of self-identity, changed family dynamics and configurations and experiences of racism and discrimination.

David Baker, principal policy adviser at Orygen said young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds may have been exposed to a number of situations that could impact significantly on their mental health and wellbeing, both before arriving in Australia and while living here.

“While many of these young people display incredible resilience, some are also vulnerable to experiencing mental-ill health, and are underrepresented in mental health services in Australia,” Mr Baker said.

Swathi Shanmukhasundaram, a CMY Shout Out speaker and youth advocate, said this report highlights the importance of letting young people lead the conversation about their lives.

“Services need to focus on building relationships with us so that we know we have a safe space where we can speak openly and be understood,” she said.

Carmel Guerra, Chief Executive Officer at CMY, emphasised the need to support conversations.

“Young people and communities need to be at the heart of co-designing these processes – they have the lived experience and cultural lens to know what solutions will work best.”

“The report notes that one of the issues that impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds is their experiences of racism and exclusion,” Mr Baker said.

“We need to be looking at developing policies and implementing programs to address racism and discrimination and developing ways to strengthen young people’s sense of belonging,” Mr Baker said.

The report has also called for mental health services to be more culturally responsive.

Mr Baker said, western cultural models of treatment and recovery can be perceived or experienced as too individualistic.

“Culturally responsive services are required that connect with communities,” he said.

The report also highlighted the lack of research available to better understand suicide risk among migrant and refugee communities.

This was important Mr Baker said, because young people with a refugee background faced a number of additional suicide risk factors in addition to those faced by other young people.

“Young people from migrant backgrounds may have experiences of trauma that add to their challenges of settling into a new country and community.” he said.

“Mental health services for these young people need to be trauma-informed, guidelines developed on what this means, and professional development and training for sector workers.”


For media enquiries, please contact Hannah Ford on +61 3 9340 3741 or at hford@cmy.net.au.