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To: Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Director-General of Health) and Robyn Shearer (Deputy Director-General of Mental Health and Addiction), Ministry of Health
Calling for immediate action to improve mental wellbeing for diverse Asian communities in Aotearoa
Dear Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Robyn Shearer,
The National Asian Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy and Advisory (NAMAA) Group is a collective of mental health professionals and academics caring and championing for the mental wellbeing of diverse Asian communities in Aotearoa. We are writing to you to highlight the declining mental health status of Asian New Zealanders exacerbated by COVID-19 and call for immediate action to address their needs.
We urge immediate action in these following areas:
● Commit funding, resource and support for existing contracts to Asian specific providers to increase their service reach to high-risk Asian communities. For example, Asian Family Services (a national Asian mental health provider) has reached our service delivery capacity based on our current funding; with more support from the Ministry, we are ready to extend our services to more Asian clients with urgent needs.
● Increase efforts within the current national mental wellbeing campaign to target specific Asian communities in culturally and linguistically safe and appropriate ways.
● Collaborate with Asian mental health experts, providers and organisations to develop culturally responsive suicide prevention and postvention strategies.
● Long-term investment to address service gaps, reduce health inequalities, grow and develop the Asian workforce and improve the mental health and wellbeing of all Asian New Zealanders.
Why is this important?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, demand for linguistically and culturally appropriate Asian mental health services has increased notably in our communities. Front-line clinicians working with diverse Asian communities have seen how high stress, anxiety and isolation of living in a pandemic are taking their toll on Asian people’s mental health.
Historically, Asian communities have low utilisation of mainstream primary and secondary mental health services in Aotearoa compared to other ethnic groups . Therefore, despite the increase in demand for mental health care identified by Asian mental health services during COVID-19, Asian clients are unlikely to seek mental health care from mainstream providers and will continue to rely on Asian specific providers.
While resettling in a linguistically and culturally different country is already a stressful experience for newer settlers within the Asian communities, we are seeing more complex family distress, mental health and social care needs of our clients since COVID-19. In addition to needing help with depressive and anxiety-related issues brought on by the pandemic, Asian people are also dealing with heightened stress and safety concerns around discrimination, long-term impacts of unemployment, financial hardship, domestic violence and abuse, loneliness and isolation due to separation from family members.
The Human Rights Commission has reported a 30% spike in racially motivated attacks towards Asian people, particularly those of Chinese and East Asian descent, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic . This figure is reflective of the increase in distress reported by our clients from bullying, verbal and non-verbal attacks.
Although there is no official reporting of suicide rates connected to COVID-19, we are alarmed by the increase in the suicide rate amongst the Asian population in the recently published provisional suicide data released by the Chief Coroner.
The suicide rates for the Asian population had increased from 5.09 to 7.91 per 100,000 between July 2019-June 2020, which went against the declining suicide trends for all other ethnic groups in Aotearoa .
The Covid-19 pandemic has further brought to the fore the significant service gaps and unmet needs within Asian communities. We reiterate the urgent need for a national-level strategy and interventions to be put in place to stop the increase in suicide and poor mental health outcomes amongst this diverse and growing population group.
The NAMAA (group) acknowledgement of the place of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Tangata Whenua and a willingness to work in partnership with Tangata Whenua.
Please sign the petition to support our call for the Ministry of Health to address the mental health needs of diverse Asian communities in Aotearoa. Thank you for helping us!
You can read the full version of our Open Letter here: [https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:4f785297-35d8-4d97-a569-6156d2957b95]
The National Asian Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy and Advisory (NAMAA) Group
Kelly Feng – National Director, Asian Family Services
Dr Gary Cheung – Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, School of Medicine, The University of Auckland
Dr Elsie Ho – MNZM, Honorary Academic, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland
Dr Aram Kim – Psychiatrist, Chairperson of the Korean Community Wellness Society
Patrick Au – Registered Psychiatric Nurse and Counsellor in Private Practice
Rebecca Zhang – Psychologist, Project Lead, Te Pou
Ivan Yeo – Deputy Director, Asian Family Services
Shirleen Prasad – Asha Programme Lead, Asian Family Services
Cecilia Wong-Cornall – Professional Teaching Fellow, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland
Kristy Kang – Project Coordinator and Youth Representative, Asian Family Services