Mental illnesses are often ‘missed’ in ethnic minority groups, despite them being more at risk than New Zealand Europeans, new research shows.
The University of Auckland report, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday, found that Maori, Pacific and Asian New Zealanders were more likely than their European counterparts to be under-diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders.
That was despite those groups reporting higher distress and depression rates.
The research saw participants scored on the Kessler-6 scale, a six-point self-report measure of psychological distress.
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The test surveyed, among other things, how often participants had felt ‘hopeless’, ‘worthless’, or ‘nervous’ in the past 30 days.
Those who were found to be ‘at risk’ on the scale were then compared with those who had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety in the past five years.
The findings showed that mental health problems were more likely to be diagnosed in Europeans than in any other ethnic group.
Asian people were three times more likely than Europeans to have their mental illness undiagnosed.
The report said Asian migrants tend to be in good health when they arrive in New Zealand, due to immigration requirements.
However, they experience a decline in health over time, often linked to feelings of isolation and experiences of racism.
Under-diagnosis of mental illness in Asian groups was likely to be the result of language or cultural barriers to accessing healthcare, including the stigma that surrounds mental illness in Asian cultures, the report said.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said one of the main issues for Asian immigrants was a lack of health literacy.
Many were not aware of the support available to them, or what help might look like, he said.
“Language barriers can be very difficult to overcome, particularly as services are location-based and some areas have little support for Asian communities.”
Another issue was a “huge amount” of stigma around mental illness, which prevented many people from accessing support services, Robinson said.
The Mental Health Foundation has a focused Like Minds Like Mine programme for New Zealand’s Asian communities, Kai Xin Xing Dong.
It helps Chinese, Japanese and Korean New Zealanders to remove the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.
“For many, the shame and stigma associated with mental illness meant they were discouraged from speaking openly about their experiences and encouraged to seek help only from very close family,” Robinson said.
A recent review showed that some forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, were thought of as “supernatural punishment” for wrong-doings, Robinson said.
Asian people might also feel they could bring shame to their families by disclosing their problems, and were therefore less likely to seek help, he said.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).