CALD Suicide Prevention (Op-ed)

Our society has a strong focus on the individual and looking after ourselves. Sometimes this can hide the fact that when things are not going well, it is often our relationships with others and our connections to communities that hold us up.

A sense of strong community is one of the defining features of Dandenong in Melbourne’s southeast. A growing number of migrants and refugees have made the suburb one of Australia’s most multicultural, and in doing so they are influencing the way local services support mental health.

Every Friday in Dandenong, men of all ages gather to drink tea, talk and spend time together. Chay Khanna, which translates to home(made) tea in Afghan, is a social group for men who have arrived in Australia from Afghanistan that creates a space for them to strengthen their relationships and build community.

In supporting the program, Better Place Australia and the Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre have recognised that many of the newly arrived people in Dandenong come from relationship-based communities. Relationships beyond immediate family, the mixing of generations, and the coming together for social events, are all seen as important parts of day-to-day life for relationship-based communities. These relationships are particularly valuable when creating a new life in a new country.

Community ties can be strengthened when facing the various challenges involved in settling into a new country; such as language barriers, financial stressors, racism, the impacts of trauma , and a lack of recognition of previous employment experience. While facing these challenges can both draw on and build resilience, the experience of migration can be extremely difficult.

In this context, a person experiencing poor mental health can often feel helpless and alone. Social groups like Chay Khanna provide opportunities to forge and strengthen new relationships, and they also allow for the sharing of information in informal and interactive ways. In this way, social groups are much more effective than impersonal information channels, such as flyers and websites.

Mental health professionals are sometimes invited to visit the Chay Khanna group. Rather than making a formal presentation, they simply join the conversation. In the process, they can normalise talking about mental health and depression, and let the group members know where to seek help. By having open conversations about mental health, social support groups can help to challenge shame and stigma, while also building each person’s capacity to respond to the mental health challenges of their other community members.

Research has shown that people from migrant and refugee backgrounds have often experienced traumas, and they can be at an increased risk of suicide during periods of poor mental health. These risks are heightened when people are not aware of the services available to support them; services which may not have been available in their countries of origin. Suicide risk factors for migrants and refugees can be compounded by other issues, including those of cultural norms related to mental health, and the family and social pressures associated with trying to succeed in a new country.

Consequently, it is important for suicide prevention programs to focus on personal interactions and relationship building.

The HOPE Outreach Program is a community-based support service for people who have attempted suicide . This program recognises that people are extremely vulnerable in the weeks and months after a suicide attempt, and that recovery cannot be a one-size-fits-all model. In the 12-week program, the focus of recovery is on exploring options for people to build a support network of friends and family, while also linking them into professional services.

Preventative programs, such as Chay Kanna, and responsive ones, such as HOPE, both focus on the importance of strong connections between people. This includes one-on-one relationships as well as connections within our communities. These programs are essential across CALD communities for the prevention of suicidal behaviours. Providing an evidence-base to demonstrate the effectiveness of implementing a culturally-safe psychosocial model of care would support suicide prevention and intervention programs. By exploring cultural risk factors associated with suicide, and subsequent help-seeking behaviours, a more tailored approach to suicide prevention/intervention can be implemented for communities.

To do this, the Centre for Better Relationships is working to consult and collaborate with CALD stakeholders to journey map prospective pathways for those experiencing suicidal thoughts , and for individuals who have attempted suicide.

Melanie Joosten

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