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Forum tackles migrant mental health issues

29 April 2005

Forum tackles migrant mental health issues

Growing concern over mental health issues for migrant and refugee communities was the driver behind today’s workshop co-organised by the West Auckland Shared Vision and AUT’s Centre for Asia and Migrant Health Research.

The objective of the forum was to highlight the issues that mental health services need to be aware of when working with migrants and refugees, says co-organiser Ruth DeSouza, Coordinator of AUT’s Asia and Migrant Health Research Centre.

However, the focus was not only on challenges but also emphasised the skills and strengths that migrants and refugees bring to their new homeland, she said.

Guest speaker Dr Kannan Subramaniam, who visited Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, explained that 50% of people who experience trauma recover without intervention, another 40% recover within six months, which leaves about 10% in need of support.

The co-ordinator of the Asian Health Support Service at Waitemata Health, Sue Lim, said addressing language difficulties was a key strategy in addressing and improving the health status of Asian people within the region.

Ms Lim said building on existing translation services and also expanding on the cultural guidance advice given to Waitemata Health staff and other medical professionals would help to address language difficulties and the reticence of some migrants to seek medical help.

The manager of the AUT Centre for Refugee Education, Maria Hayward, said education is crucial in the resettlement process, beginning from birth right through to adulthood.

Employment support includes workshops run by the Auckland Regional Migrant Services Trust as many new settlers experience unemployment or under-employment and rebuilding a new life.

The challenges of labelling mental health issues facing refugees and migrants was discussed, in particular how having a mental health diagnosis can result in stigma.

Dr Nyunt Naing Thein, a former refugee and the manager of the Refugees as Survivors Service, said diagnosis was a crucial step in enabling access to health services.

The issue of appropriate therapy was discussed, with physiotherapist and body-sense therapist Yolande Johnson outlining a range of therapies available apart from traditional “talking therapies”.


Shared Vision is a venue for all people concerned about mental health in West Auckland and a monthly forum is held to discuss pertinent issues.

The Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research brings together research that advances understanding of public health issues that can improve access to healthcare and promote good health among the Asian and migrant populations in New Zealand.

A core aim of the centre is to conduct research with Asian and migrant populations, with particular emphasis on studies of relevance on public and community health and development.

The centre is also committed to contributing to the development of the Asian and migrant health research workforce. Key staff within the Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research are the director, Professor Max Abbott, and co-ordinator Ruth DeSouza.


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