Young service users from refugee backgrounds: their perspectives on barriers to accessing Australian mental health services

Author(s): Madeleine Claire VALIBHOY ; Josef SZWARC ; Ida KAPLAN


The aim of this paper is to examine barriers to accessing mental health services, from the perspective of young people of refugee background who have been service users, and to suggest strategies to improve access.

A qualitative study was conducted with 16 young people (aged 18-25), who had been refugees and who had attended mental health professionals in Australia. Interview transcripts were analysed thematically to examine participants’ perspectives on what hinders initial access to mental health services.

Stigma about mental health problems was particularly prominent. Many believed a high level of disturbance was the threshold for entering services, and for some there was no knowledge of such services’ existence. Options for assistance other than mental health services were often preferred, according to young people’s explanatory models. Apprehension was expressed that sessions would be uncomfortable, distressing, or ineffective. The desire to be self-reliant functioned as a further barrier. Finally, structural obstacles and social exclusion deterred some young refugees from accessing services.

Implications include the need for service providers to be equipped to provide culturally sensitive, responsive services that ideally offer both practical and psychological assistance. Potential referrers, including health professionals and community leaders, could facilitate increased access if trained to recognise and address barriers. Finally, findings indicate potential content for awareness-raising initiatives for young refugees about mental health problems and services.

This paper is original in its sample, method, topic and findings; being drawn from the first known qualitative research exploring views of young mental health service users who have been refugees about barriers to accessing mental health services.

Tags: Australia, Adolescents, Youth, Refugees, Access to mental health care, Stigma

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