Exploring the relationship between culture and mental health

Grace Jones has been a member of the Tasmanian Transcultural Mental Health Network (TTMHN) since late 2019. She joined the network when she commenced in her role as Multicultural Liaison Officer for the Royal Hobart Hospital. “I joined the network for ongoing professional development. By participating in TTMHN, I am open to new information and new insights and way of working. I can also learn from other people as well, which is really important in my role at the hospital,” she said.

TTMHN was established in 2008 by the Phoenix Centre, the mental health arm of the Migrant Resource Centre Tasmania. The aim of the network is to advocate for cultural competency and cultural responsiveness in the mental health workforce.

Cultural competency can be defined as being aware of one’s own cultural values and beliefs and how they can differ from other cultures and being able to learn and appreciate different cultures. Grace is more familiar with cultural humility which she defines as “coming in with a non-judgmental and unassuming way of being; being open to different ideas around what people think about their mental health or how they have contextualized their feeling.”

Having cultural competency enables mental health professionals to respond appropriately to client needs and provide services in a culturally appropriate manner. “In some cultures, it is important to include family as an active part of the safety planning rather than just taking that individualised approach. Mental health workers can conduct a thorough assessment and understand the importance of other factors such as trauma and belonging to community, the impact of exclusion or displacement, and how people historically sometimes place into the society as well,” Grace said.

Grace recounts her first experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse clients as being shallow and less explorative of solutions to issues presented to her. “I suppose during my first experience I was a little bit concerned about asking certain questions and saying the wrong thing and not deeply exploring that issue with them.”

Since joining the network, Grace has experienced significant professional development and employs a culturally responsive approach in service delivery. Attending trainings such as Chronic Pain and Support during COVID-19 have provided Grace with more insight into understanding mental health concerns, such as trauma. She now understands how different pains present culturally in the body and can respond appropriately to trauma-related cases,

“I now take a trauma-informed approach and really take a step back and try to get the patient to explain how they are feeling, and understand their culture and their religion and how that impacts on the case as well. I really try to explore that feeling and why it started and what they think contributed to that, and what they think needs to happen,” she said.

Grace recognises the need to consider alternatives to western medicine when providing solutions to mental health concerns. She also acknowledges the importance of specialist services tailored to the requirements of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, “The Pain clinic at the hospital may not necessarily be the most appropriate referral pathway. Clients may be better off being referred through to the Phoenix Centre to look at that pain, rather than being at the medical pain clinic here,” Grace said.

Mental health professionals and allied health workers can join the TTMHN by visiting www.ttmhn.org.au/join/

You can contact TTMHN by emailing ttmhn@mrctas.org.au

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