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Chapter 8 Section C: Cultural and linguistic diversity and mental health conditions

Mental health conditions can affect anyone but sometimes, culture and language create difficulties in getting appropriate mental health care, support and services. Some cultural communities may have particular attitudes towards mental health that also make it difficult for people in that community to access support. On the other hand, protective factors such as spirituality, community and family support can be factors that influence resiliency in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, and these can be drawn upon to support the wellbeing of people who have experienced mental illness.

In NSW, there are several policies and programs in place that attempt to overcome these kinds of barriers in mainstream services. There are also some specialist services available to assist people from CALD backgrounds to access the mental health care and support they need.

The purpose of this section is to give you information about those policies, programs and services in NSW.

In this section of the Manual you will find information about:

The WayAhead Mental Health Association of NSW has a number of fact sheets on mental health care information, translated into several languages that you might also find useful. Click here to read the fact sheets and to read the Multicultural Mental Health Resource.

The Australian Government also has a website to support new arrivals. This includes information for new arrivals to Australia, who may require support related to mental health conditions.

8C.1: The National Standards for Mental Health Services and social and cultural diversity

Standard 4 in the National Standards for Mental Health Services (2010) deals with diversity responsiveness in the mental health sector, including in relation to persons from CALD backgrounds. It outlines the standards that mental health services should meet in order to ensure their services take into account the cultural and social diversity of those they support, and meet their needs, and those of their carers and the community, through all phases of care.

8C.2: The NSW Plan for a Healthy Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Community 2019 – 2023

The NSW Plan for a Healthy Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Community 2019 – 2023, is the strategic state-wide policy for meeting the health needs of CALD consumers for the next five years. The Plan aims to ensure people of CALD backgrounds have equitable access to the health care services that are culturally responsive, safe and high quality. The Plan serves as the NSW Health multicultural plan under the NSW Multicultural Policies and Services Program.

The NSW Government’s desired outcomes are to maintain a health system that:

  • is culturally responsive
  • provides accessible and high-quality care for all consumers
  • builds the health literacy of consumers and health staff; and
  • uses its understanding of consumer health needs to inform the work it does.

This Plan is connected to other state-wide strategies that the Ministry has developed to support planning and delivery of care to groups of people with particular needs. This includes people living with mental health issues, people with disability, carers, people living in rural areas or whose age, gender or sexual orientation shapes their experience of care.

8C.3: Mental Health and Support Services for Culturally Diverse Communities

Many mental health services across NSW provide training to their staff to become more culturally sensitive in their assessment, diagnosis and care of people living with mental health conditions.

If you feel comfortable, you can try to ask for a culturally appropriate support when you are receiving a service. You can also ask if it is possible to bring a support person from your CALD background when accessing a service if you do not feel comfortable going alone.

There are a range of specialised mental health clinical assessment and services for people from CALD communities, including:

  • Transcultural Mental Health Centre: provides a range of information and services for people with mental illness from CALD backgrounds, their carers and communities. This information is available in a number of community languages.
  • Multicultural Problem Gambling Service for NSW: supports problem gamblers from CALD communities living in NSW and their families by providing quality and accessible counselling, treatment and support services.
  • Embrace Multicultural Mental Health (the Embrace Project): this program, provides a national focus for advice and support to providers and governments on mental health and suicide prevention for people from CALD backgrounds.

Other support services for migrants and people from CALD backgrounds include:

Migrant Resource Centres: community-based organisations that provide settlement services for migrants and refugees to help them in settle in Australia. Services are different in each centre but can include aged care, family support, early intervention programs.

Illawarra Multicultural Services is an example of a regional service which provides a diversity of programs to migrants and refugees in the Illawarra area. To look for services in other areas click here.

8C.4: Asylum seekers and refugees

Asylum seekers are people who have left their country, applied to the Australian Government for recognition as a refugee and are waiting for a decision. A refugee is a person who has been granted asylum because they unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Refugee status may also applied to people who should be protected under laws of armed conflict, international humanitarian law, and other international conventions, including those related to civil and political rights, torture and genocide.

Australia is a signatory, or is a party to, to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

People seeking protection and resettlement in Australia may have experienced trauma as a result of war, persecution and/or human rights abuses. Children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of trauma. Asylum seekers and refugees require support, care and treatment that is culturally appropriate and trauma-informed.

Any person in Australia can go to the emergency department of a hospital for treatment at any time. This includes asylum seekers and refugees.

An asylum seeker’s application make years to process. During this waiting period, the Australian Government may give some help to the asylum seeker depending on their type of visa, such as giving them the right to work in Australia and a Medicare Card. Dependent on your visa status you may be eligible to some Medicare services. To read more click here.

If you are an asylum seeker or refugee and you have been given a Medicare Card, then you should read the section on Medicare in this Manual for information about your rights to get health services.

STARTTS is a specialist, non-profit organisation that assists both asylum seekers and refuges. They provide provided culturally relevant psychological treatment and support, and community interventions, to help people and communities heal the scars of torture and refugee trauma and rebuild their lives in Australia. STARTTS also fosters a positive recovery environment through the provision of training to services, advocacy and policy work. For a list of contact details for each of the STARTTS offices, click here.

8C.4.1: Asylum seekers not eligible for Medicare

There are ways to get a range of health and other social support services if you are an asylum seeker in NSW and are not eligible for Medicare.

Some asylum seekers are not eligible for Medicare. The Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW may be able to advocate for fee waivers for specialist consultations and emergency treatment in public hospitals. Click here to find out more information.

Asylum Seekers Centre
Becher House
43 Bedford Street
Newtown, NSW 2042Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm
(Closed on Public Holidays)
T: 02 9078 1900

8C.4.2: Refugees and the health system

If you are a refugee and need information about primary health or medical care, you can contact the Australian Refugee Health Practice Guide . The guide has been developed by the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS).

The Refugee Council has a directory on all the services available to asylum seekers, including health services, click here. The NSW Refugee Health Service was set up by the NSW Department of Health to promote the health of people from a refugee background living in NSW by assisting refugees, and the health professionals who work with them. They provide General Practitioner services, an early childhood nursing program, disability support, and resources.

NSW Refugee Health Service
Suite 1, Level 3
157-161 George St Liverpool NSW 2170
Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5.00pm
T: (02) 9794 0770
F: (02) 9794 0790
Clinic locations found here

The Humanitarian Resettlement Program provides support to newly arrived refugee and humanitarian entrants to build the skills and knowledge they need in the Australian Community for a period of up to twelve (12) months.

Case managers develop individualised plans for those coming to Australia under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Settlement services tailored to meet their particular circumstances.

Clients leave the HRP program when they achieve outcomes in their case plan, typically between six (6) to eighteen (18) months after coming to Australia. Case managers address client needs, including physical and mental health, employment, education and training, etc. This program is provided by:

Migrant Resource Centres are also community-based organisations that provide settlement services for refugees to help them in settle in Australia. Services are different in each centre but can include aged care, family support, early intervention programs.

8C.4.3: Legal assistance for asylum seekers and refugees

Immigration law and policy may change, and you should seek legal advice for your particular situation. The following organisations provide legal assistance to asylum seekers and refugees:

  • Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS): This Community Legal Centre provides critical free legal advice, assistance and representation, for financially disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking asylum in Australia. Contact them by email (, phone (8355 7227) or click here.
  • Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (IARC): This Community Legal Centre provides free immigration legal advice to eligible people in New South Wales or in immigration detention. Access to free legal advice is subject to income tests; and IARC gives priority to particularly vulnerable members of the community, including asylum seekers and refugees. To access their services, complete an online form here and/or call 02 8234 0700
  • Refugee Service, Legal Aid NSW: a state-wide specialist service of Legal Aid NSW that helps newly arrived refugees learn about their rights and responsibilities under the law; and assists with a variety of legal issues. Contact them by email: (, phone (8713 6725) on Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, or click here.
  • Call Law Access on 1300 888 529 for information about which other community legal centres are providing services to asylum seekers and refugees.

8C.5: Interpreting and translation services

When you are getting health services, including mental health services, you have a right to have the services provided to you in a way that you can understand. This means that you have a right to have an interpreter so that you can understand any information given to you in a language you can understand. If the service does not have a staff member who is fluent in your language, then the service should do their best to help you get an interpreting and translation service at no cost to you.

Multicultural NSW Language Services provides comprehensive interpreting and translation services in one hundred and four (104) languages and dialects, including Auslan (Australian sign language). This NSW Government service is committed to ensuring that the people of NSW enjoy equal access to services, programs and opportunities across the state.

To help people with limited English to engage with the information they need, this interpreting and translation service is available to all NSW Government agencies, private and commercial organisations, community groups and individuals. All Multicultural NSW interpreters and translators are certified by National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters to ensure high quality and professionalism. This service provides interpreting in person. The mental health professional or you must make a booking to get an interpreter and can do this by telephone or by e-mail.

Bookings can be made:

  • by downloading the Interpreter Request Form and emailing Language Services at;
  • online: existing customers of Multicultural NSW are able to book interpreting services online via our secure booking system. If you are interested in obtaining access to this facility, please call Language Services on 1300 651 500 or email; or
  • by calling 1300 651 500.

The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) is a national service which provides a telephone interpreting service. TIS National provides interpreting assistance to enable non-English speakers to access government agencies and services, police and legal services, education, healthcare and community groups, as well as services offered by private businesses.

The services provided are:

  • immediate phone interpreting;
  • ATIS automated voice-prompted immediate phone interpreting;
  • pre-booked phone interpreting;
  • on-site interpreting and
  • Illegal Maritime Arrival interpreting.

The TIS National immediate phone interpreting service is available twenty-four (24) hours a day, every day of the year for the cost of a local call for any person or organisation in Australia who needs an interpreter.
The mental health professional or you can get an interpreter over the phone by calling 131 450*. You can choose the gender of your interpreter. You can try to let the mental health professional know if you are not comfortable with the interpreter for any reason, for example, you are part of the same community and you do not want to tell them sensitive information.

TIS also provides interpreting in person, but you must make a booking for this and the booking is usually made by the service you are getting help from. Sometimes, the service is free. For more information about TIS and how to use it, click here to visit the website.

*Mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) and to local call numbers (numbers starting with 13 or 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

Updated June 29, 2020