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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

Victorian Transcultural Mental Health

Victorian Transcultural Mental Health advocates for cultural safety and responsiveness in mental health services for all members of the Victorian community. Dr Anita Tan, Manager of Victorian Transcultural Mental Health, explained that the unit helps services consider how mental health, cultural differences and structural inequities interact and implement practices and structures that promote equitable access to mental health services.

Cultural safety is a key practice principle for providing person‑centred, holistic and equitable mental health care and negotiating power in service encounters.

Victorian Transcultural Mental Health partners with clinical and community‑managed mental health services to improve its cultural responsiveness to diverse populations. Collaborations between Victorian Transcultural Mental Health and a partner typically last around three years. The partnerships include a focus on engagement to understand the organisation’s culture and environment, and sustainability to ensure there is significant and enduring change.

Victorian Transcultural Mental Health also delivers face‑to‑face and online learning that applies intersectionality and cultural safety to service design and delivery. Group learning includes reflective practice conversations, which help teams to respond to ethical challenges, and clinical discussions, which concentrate on the cultural identity of the consumer and how this may affect their mental health assessment or treatment options. The unit also engages directly with communities and their allies to build their capacity to talk about mental health issues and get the right support.

A companion website, LGBTQIntersect, promotes the development of culturally safe mental health services for LGBTIQ+ people from multicultural communities.

Dr Tan said that while people from culturally diverse backgrounds are well placed to identify their own needs and treatment preferences, they face significant barriers.

It is important to acknowledge the cultural and social forces that silence people and curtail life opportunities. Service providers must learn from individuals, families and groups, about how they understand wellbeing, distress, and recovery and use formal support services and support networks. The onus is on professionals, organisations and service systems to provide safe spaces, understand the powerful determinants of social and emotional wellbeing, and build human solidarity.

Source: Dr Anita Tan, Correspondence to the RCVMHS, 2020.