Community-Specific Counsellors needed to strengthen Mental Health Support

Mohammad Hassaan Mirza

Covid-19 worsens vulnerability of South Asian communities

While the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically affected the way a vast majority of the people operate in the physical world, the environment fostered by it has taken its toll on the mental states of its denizens.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that the isolation of quarantine and the anxiety of being in an era where potentially fatal disease could be in unforeseen spots.

Rising alcohol and drug abuse

As countries prolong and tighten security and health measures, loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use have risen to terrifying extremes. WHO has also recognised that prior to the pandemic, countries were spending less than 2% of their national health budget on mental health, with the struggle of those countries to meet their populations’ needs exacerbated considerably by the contamination of the disease.

Among the strain placed on these countries, 67% saw disruptions to counselling and psychotherapy; 65% to critical harm reduction services; and 45% to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence, quoted from the WHO website.

Need for Community Counsellors

There is a growing need for more mental health support services and tools, recognising which the New Zealand government has allocated an additional $40 million for 100 new health practices to provide the mental health and addiction services already available at 22 sites across the country.

We would urge that special attention be paid by these services to assign special community-specific counsellors. This is because, one of the main contributors to an individual’s mental health is, not only the setting they are surrounded with, but also the culture in which they live. The pressures upon an individual, and the manners in which the process and address those pressures are invariably determined by the individual’s background and culture.

In particular, we would urge that the South Asian community be one of the groups that receive unique counselling.

Mental Health for South Asians

Over 9% of New Zealand’s population identifies as South Asian. Conversely, 70% of New Zealand’s population identifies as being either Kiwi or European.

Beliefs in the South Asian community regarding mental illness and sources of support differ from those common to Western cultures.

According to studies undertaken by organisations such as Mental Health Programmes Limited, current strategies of counselling, namely “talking therapy,” are unable to meet the needs and goals of the Asian demographic, and as such, they are less likely to access counselling, and more likely to drop out.

Not only has the attitude of keeping all problems private been normalised across South Asian culture, but also a significant portion of the community present in New Zealand are migrants or refugees. They would be facing different and unique pressures from the differences in background alone but compounding on that are their traditions.

Variations between cultures

Family duty, tolerance of hardship and achieving success are all present in the Western culture but are found to a much greater degree in South Asian culture.

In addition, spirituality and faith is different than for Western culture, due to the different religions in play, such as Islam and Hinduism.

Questions and struggles that South Asians might have regarding their faith would be different than for a Kiwi with Christianity, as an example.

These are quite general observations, as each culture would have unique facets that would make providing mental health support for them a more nuanced effort. As such, there is a great need to ensure that more attention is paid to providing the kind of mental health support that the South Asian community needs.

‘Talking Therapy Counsellors’

These can come in the form of ‘Talking Therapy Counsellors,’ as mentioned prior, or in the form of mental health support lines. Youthline, Mental Health Foundation and Gandhi Nivas are all examples of mental health support lines that have been finding a great deal of success in assisting those in need, with the latter also being a great example of a service of this type to New Zealanders of all ethnicities.

In the event where these sessions are not enough, applications geared towards community mental health support would also be a beneficial addition to the available services.

Apps like Melon, Heart Healer and Mentemia are all popular examples of applications that not only promote regular meditation and communication, but also contain wellbeing journals, daily wellness goals, and ways to track your progress.

This is an area where more work can be done to cater towards the migrant community, and with the amount of money that the government has put aside for this purpose, we feel that communities around New Zealand would benefit greatly from being able to use mental health applications, especially keeping in mind the South Asian communities hesitance to engage in talking therapy and keeping emotional and mental difficulties private.

To conclude, there is a vacuum in mental health support catered towards individual communities within New Zealand, such as the South Asian community, and we feel that this with the budget put aside by the government towards furthering mental health support services, that there is an opportunity to meet the needs of these communities.

Mohammad Hassaan Mirza is Assistant Editor (English Section) of Sangam Magazine. He lives in Auckland. The above story has been sponsored by

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