Mental health issues facing Chinese

University of Canterbury health sciences postgraduate research student Holly Zhang

Health sciences postgraduate student Holly Zhang says Chinese New Zealanders tend to hide their problems and not ask for help. Her research also found some Chinese people who want help have language or transport problems and do not know where they can receive mental health care. Zhang’s research was supervised by Associate Professor Pauline Barnett and Dr Jeff Gage.

There are about 163,000 Chinese people living in New Zealand and they are more likely to have a higher education, be younger but have a lower income than other people in the New Zealand community. More than 70 percent of Chinese were born overseas, indicating that most of them are migrants.

“I am a psychiatrist from China, so I am very interested in people’s mental health. During my life in New Zealand, I met a number of Chinese people with mental health problems who did not get appropriate care.

“I spoke to a wide range of major health providers in Christchurch on their perceptions of important mental health problems for Chinese people, the barriers to providing support and possible solutions.

My study identified several high risk groups including Chinese elders, Chinese international students, and Chinese people caught between two cultures.

“I am impressed with the mental health services in New Zealand. There is a good range of mental health services which could support people once their mental health needs were established.

“The referral system ensures people can receive coordinated mental health care. But health providers and patients might feel daunted by communication problems and therefore are unable to get the most out of treatment.

“The health services have developed differently within New Zealand. The Auckland region seems to have more of an understanding about Chinese people’s mental health issues and with more available and accessible mental health services in Chinese.

“In Christchurch, only a few Chinese health providers were identified, and people have less choice. In this case it is unlikely that Chinese people’s health needs, especially mental health’s needs, can be fully met.

“Chinese people should go outside the family and ask for help, take opportunities to practice English, communicate with local people to understand New Zealand culture and attend social groups.

“Health providers and policy makers should establish trustful relationships with their Chinese clients with cultural respect, establish community-supported mental health services, and provide educational seminars for Chinese people, health providers and policy makers so that they understand each other better.

“Training more Chinese health practitioners to work alongside with the western health system might be a quicker and cheaper way to ensure Chinese people to get appropriate care. The findings from this study might not only benefit Chinese people but also benefit people from other cultural backgrounds,” Zhang says.

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