Nurturing Mental Health: The Challenges Faced by Immigrants and Refugees in Australia


Angela Bird
Placement Student Wellbeing Team

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the mental health issues immigrants and refugees face in Australia. As a multicultural nation, we welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds, but we must understand and address their unique challenges settling here. In this article, we'll explore the mental health landscape for immigrants and refugees and shed light on how we can better support their well-being.

The Struggles They Face

Immigrants and refugees often leave their homelands due to conflict, violence, persecution, or to seek better opportunities for themselves and their children. However, their journeys are not without difficulties. Many may have experienced traumatic events, loss of loved ones, and prolonged separation from their support networks (Feldman & Vengrober, 2011). Such experiences can affect their mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and adjustment disorders (Attanayake et al., 2009). Intergenerational (Sangalang & Vang, (2017) and cultural traumas (Subica, et al., (2022) can be ongoing and are passed onto the next generation. Sadly, many do not seek help for a range of reasons, such as shame (Link, 1987) and stigma around mental health (Corrigan, & Watson, A. C. (2002), cultural and spiritual differences about the cause and treatment of ill health (Kahissay et al., 2017), historical attitudes to governments (Westerman, 2021) and poor access to services (Lezcano, 2021).

Cultural Adjustment and Identity

Adapting to a new culture can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Immigrants and refugees face the challenge of understanding and integrating into a different society, grappling with language barriers, cultural norms, and unfamiliar systems (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019). This cultural adjustment process can cause stress, isolation, and a sense of not fully belonging (Fegert et al., 2018). We need to provide a supportive environment where these individuals can feel accepted, valued, and empowered to express their cultural identities within the Australian context.

Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Services

Unfortunately, immigrants and refugees often encounter barriers when seeking mental health support (Australian Institute of Family Studies, (2017). These barriers may include language and literacy barriers, limited knowledge of available services, cultural stigmas surrounding mental health, and financial constraints. Additionally, professionals may lack cultural competence or awareness of these individuals' unique and perhaps traumatic experiences.

Building Culturally Competent Care

To effectively address the mental health needs of immigrants and refugees, we must prioritise cultural competence. This involves understanding that immigrants' different cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and values impact their settlement experiences and well-being. Enhancing our own cultural competencies help establish trust, foster meaningful connections, and provide tailored support. Education in cultural awareness, collaboration with interpreters, using cultural agents and elders to moderate, and community support can be vital in delivering holistic care. Being trauma-informed, open, and curious about differences and how they arrived here when working with immigrants is critical and builds trusting solid ties.

Promoting Resilience and Community Support

Immigrants and refugees demonstrate remarkable resilience and resourcefulness despite their challenges. Most thrive and succeed (Aden, 2018; Poulsen, 2018) and can give back to the country that helped them (Boseley, 2020). We can support their mental health by fostering community, creating safe spaces, such as the Wellness Centre, for sharing experiences, and promoting social inclusion. Initiatives such as support groups, language classes, cultural celebrations, and community engagement can help individuals build connections, strengthen their support networks, and enhance their overall well-being.

Advocacy and Policy Changes

Although there are challenges, advocating for policy changes prioritising the mental health of immigrants and refugees (Robertshaw et al., (2017). This includes promoting equitable access to mental health services, addressing systemic barriers, and advocating for inclusive policies. By championing their rights and well-being, we contribute to a society that values the mental health of all its members.

Finally, as we work together in a diverse workplace, let us remember the unique challenges immigrants and refugees face in Australia and their contribution to our society. By fostering cultural understanding, providing accessible mental health services, and advocating for change, we can positively impact their well-being. Let's continue to create an environment where everyone feels supported, empowered, and valued.

Remember, our collective efforts can make a significant difference in nurturing the mental health of immigrants and refugees, helping them thrive in their new homes.


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