Taking the first step to seek help for a mental health issue is difficult for anyone.
For members of Australia’s Chinese community, cultural stigma and language can be additional barriers to seeking help.
“Chinese, we place the value more on family rather than individuals,” said Professor Danforn Lim, who works as GP in Sydney’s Earlwood.
“That will actually make it unlikely for the patient to seek help from medical practitioners, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists. They worry that they will be stigmatised as someone who is being crazy.”
That’s something Bill Yan, 37, can relate to.
He experienced depression and bulimia after coming to Australia as a student, but feared seeking help would bring shame to his Chinese family.
“If I seek help or talk to someone, then the neighbours or the immediate family will say, ‘oh, you have a crazy son’.” he said.
“The feeling is very alone and lonely even though you have a lot of friends around you and the only way I can really equate it is a sense of dying, a part of you is dying slowly.”
He overcame his fear, and reached out for help through a student counselling service.
He now works as a counsellor himself, using his own experience to help others.
The a 24-hour phone service Lifeline says it is experiencing increasing numbers of calls from members of the Chinese community.
Chairman John Brogden says it’s about developing a service that better meets the needs of a growing community.
“Regardless of your age, background or ethnicity, if you are going through tough times or are thinking about suicide, you should never have to be alone.” he said.
Lifeline CEO Peter Shmigel, who also volunteers on the phones, says the number of calls to the helpline from members of the Chinese community are increasing.
“The problems are very similar to the ones that we hear from other callers,” he said.
“But there are also other factors that enter into it – like the fact that reaching out for help, the existence of helplines like Lifeline can be a relatively new phenomenon for some people coming from Chinese language-speaking countries.”
Lifeline service has partnered with the Bridging Hope Foundation, the charitable arm of the TWT Property Group, to try to better meet the needs of the Chinese community
The $450,000 three-year partnership will include a feasibility study into providing services in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Although callers can currently contact Lifeline using a free interpreter service, this can create difficulties for crisis support workers, as they try to build rapport with callers.
“We’re hoping that if someone is at that point of crisis, that they’ll be able to pick up the phone and speak to someone in their first language,” Bridging Hope General Manager Stephen Fitzpatrick said.
“Subtleties of communication are lost when you go through the interpreter, so that’s why we’re doing it.”
Lucy Li (not her real name) spiralled into a deep depression which nearly ended her marriage, after the birth of her first child.
“I felt it was the end of the world. It was the end of the world. Can’t breathe, literally can’t breathe. Can’t go any further in my life,” she said.
“I was trapped in that emotion and so couldn’t get through it. And I felt that I was sinking in a deep, deep dark black hole, and I couldn’t see any light, couldn’t see any hope in front of me.”
She says it took courage to overcome cultural stigma around mental health, and seek out counselling.
Professor Danforn Lim has urged anyone in the Chinese community who is experiencing distress to seek help.
“Don’t be afraid. You must seek help,” he said. “Go and talk to your GP, talk to a psychologist. It can be cured. It can be controlled. You’ll never be a burden to the society or your family. It can be sorted out.”
Lifeline hopes to eventually roleout more culturally appropriate services to other communities, ensuring that no one ever has to feel alone.
By Brianna Roberts