Importance of the Topic
Everyone in the world has a right to enjoy quality standards of physical and mental health. Physical and mental health are directly related to the quality of life a person lives and compromises on either could lead to that person becoming alienated by their society. Social isolation of persons with mental health challenges could be particularly depressing to people who have settled in a foreign country. New Zealand has a high population of people from different cultures and the Chinese form the largest population of immigrants in the country. The Chinese make up about 45% of Asian communities in New Zealand. This high population coupled with the high susceptibility of Chinese people to mental health problems highlights the importance of this study. This study is also important as it urges for the early detection and treatment of psychiatric health problems in order to avoid incurring high treatment costs and deterioration of mental health among affected persons. It is also important to highlight this issue because Chinese people suffering from mental illnesses also tend to shy away from seeking help on their conditions for fear of stigmatization. Relevant government and non-governmental authorities should address mental and physical health challenges in not only the Chinese people but also other immigrants. By virtue of their population in the country, the Chinese are the most suitable group of people that the authorities can use to address psychiatric health concerns among immigrants. The concerned authorities can educate people on the support systems that are in place to address their concerns and encourage them to make full use of New Zealand’s Health System.
Existing services/initiatives that address mental health
The first initiative that is directly linked to the issue at hand is the Asian Mental Health Cultural Support Coordination Service (AMHCSC) which was established in 2007. This organization works in partnership with mental health clinical officers from the Waitemala District Health Board (WDHB). The Asian Health Support Service (AHSS) supports and manages the affairs of the AMHCSC. The work of the AMHCSC is to community and hospital based support to mental health patients. The organization primarily focuses on Asian minorities living in New Zealand and it has several goals that it pursues to achieve high levels of psychiatric health among Asian immigrants. The first of these goals is improving accessibility to information and services in order to reduce crisis intervention and improve the overall communication and engagement process. The organization also supports integration of Asian cultural aspects in the assessment, treatment and recovery processes. The organization targets Asians aged above 17 years who suffer from depression, psychosis, anxiety among other psychiatric challenges and who are residents of Waitemala under the care of the WDHB mental health clinicians. The teams of experts who offer support in this organization include Asian clinical Cultural advisors, Asian cultural mental health coordinators, Asian interpreters from more than 30 Asian languages and dialects among others.
The second initiative that addresses psychiatric health among Chinese immigrants in New Zealand is the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. Started in 1974, the foundation aims to create a society that does not discriminate against persons suffering from psychiatric illnesses and challenges. The foundation also influences individuals, organizations and communities to improve and sustain their mental health. Currently, the foundation uses a life-stages approach to mental health promotion by working with youths, adults and old people. The foundation also directs mental health patients with unique cultures such as the Chinese to the right service providers.
Policies that address health issues
The New Zealand government has prioritized mental health services since 1994. The government has developed community-based services to help in ensuring mental health among all people residing in the country. In 2005, the Ministry of Health published its second New Zealand Mental and Addiction plan which is a ten year (2005-2015) plan which guides investment in mental health and addiction. The plan aimed to build on the Mental Health Strategy that was contained in previous policy documents –Looking Forward (1994), Moving Forward (1997) and the mental Health Commission’s Blueprint for Mental Health Services (1998). The plan outlines the outcomes the government expects state services to pursue. It also states that there is no national policy regarding particular ethnic groups and as such urges for comprehensive mental health care among all inhabitants of New Zealand. The plan also identifies the need to improve responsiveness of services for refugee and migrant communities such as the Chinese. The delivery of the goals laid out in the plan is the responsibility of the District Health Boards (DHBs).
The Northern Regional Mental Health and Addictions Strategic Direction 2005-2015 is in-charge of service delivery at the regional levels. The plan supports the provision of quality culturally appropriate services to all migrant communities. Among other things the regional plan ensures that mental health patients access professional interpreters. The regional plan also controls and secures funding for mental health services.
Barriers for Chinese immigrants to accessing mental health care and strategies for improving mental healthcare among Chinese immigrants
The two most stumbling barriers to Chinese immigrants accessing quality mental healthcare are language barrier and cultural differences. Many Chinese immigrants in New Zealand are pre-literate in their own language and the English language. English as the commonest language used in health care institution and failure by immigrants to communicate in English is the primary reason that hinders Chinese immigrants from utilizing health services. When a patient is unable to communicate his/her concerns their condition may worsen and hence the need for authorities to provide qualified interpreters to immigrants visiting health institutions.
Cultural differences also impede access to mental healthcare by Chinese immigrants. The Chinese understanding of illnesses and healthcare systems may be different from those existing in New Zealand. Prior practices may hinder sick people from seeking health at the appropriate time. The migrants may have grown up in countries where primary care is never emphasized and visiting a hospital is seen as the ultimate way to maintain good health. Immigrant communities may also have alternative solutions that they deem more useful and powerful as compared to medical prescriptions. In addition, culture shapes people’s beliefs about the origin and nature of mental illnesses and this could weigh on the patients and prevent them from seeking medical attention.
The government of New Zealand through the Ministry of Health is working to address these two major barriers to quality healthcare. The Northern Regional Mental Health and Addictions Strategic Direction 2005-2010 has achieved commendable results by offering culturally appropriate mental healthcare. The plan has made it possible for Chinese immigrants to access professionally trained interpreters who have helped them to communicate to medical professional and obtain the necessary assistance. The plan has been building robust mental health and addiction services through the implementation of regional sustainable strategies that are based on strong leadership and collaborative planning to improve overall health of all people living in New Zealand.