Our Cultural Our Health – An In language Mental Health Promotion Program

Trust building and needs sharing 

My name is Jane Brierty, I have been working for Women’s Health East since March 2021, first as a Bilingual Health Education Officer and now as a Bicultural Worker. As a Bilingual Health Education Officer, I was running COVID-19 vaccination education sessions in the local Chinese communities, and began to develop trust. This led to more discussions on various topics related to health, and I identified that mental health is one of the highest demanded needs in the local community. Despite the high needs, I also noticed that mental health literacy and knowledge of coping strategies were limited.

Reconnection, personal coping strategies, and mental health literacy

To meet the community’s mental health needs, I developed the Our Cultural Our Health project, which was funded by the Whitehorse City Council’s Community Partnerships grant and ran from November 2021-May 2022. 

This program is aiming to help local Chinese communities with an intersectional and gender equal COVID recovery. Through the project I was wanting to: 

  • build up the reconnection to the local Chinese women in the Whitehorse area 
  • share coping strategies and exploring how to access local services
  • try to build up a Chinese Community Mental Wellbeing social support network at the end of the project
  • aim to form a new post-COVID mental wellbeing lifestyle. 

The project had four mental health modules which covered the topics of mental health, stress, anxiety, and depression.  In the modules we discussed definitions, symptoms, COVID-19’s impacts on mental health, personal coping strategies, and local mental health supports. The content was framed by social determinants of mental health approaches, and especially emphasised how the social determinants affect migrant women’s mental health. 

I have run a total of seven sessions for 126 participants which have reached 0.68% of the Whitehorse Chinese born population; the Chinese born population in EMR is 73,141 and in Whitehorse is 18,624 (Migrant Information Centre, 2020). Eight surveys have been conducted through the project – including both needs analysis surveys and evaluation surveys, and 245 community members responded. The survey results categorised four different age groups of women with different mental health topic interests and pandemic stressors, and their further needs on how to improve their mental state. 

Age  Topics of interest   Mental health stressors from COVID19 Needs 
30 – 40 years old          Stress, anxiety, depression, how to access services  Economic stress, job loss  Mental health education

Mental health promotion activities

Job seeking support 

40 – 50 years old            Stress, anxiety, mental health treatment, causes to mental ill-health  Economic stress, job seeking difficulties, job loss, conflict inside the family Mental health education

Mental health promotion activities

Relationship support

Parenting support 

How to seek support 

50 – 60 years old Anxiety, depression, how to access the services  Economic stress, racism, hopelessness, loneliness   Mental health education

Mental health promotion activities

Relationship support

Parenting support 

How to seek support

60+ years old  Anxiety, how to use the services, mental health treatment, and impact on mental health factors  Economic, hopelessness and loneliness  Mental health education

Mental health promotion activities

In-language updates on policy changes that affect service access and delivery

Projects findings and future planning – caring and thriving 

The feedback from the evaluation survey has shown that 90% of respondents increased mental health awareness and were satisfied with the sessions. The in-language sessions and feminist environments are very positive, 92% reporting that the most comfortable factor in these sessions is being with other Chinese community members. Also, data demonstrated that in-language program delivery really help participants understanding the content, and women feel connected, relaxed, and more confident to be involved in the discussions. 

But the survey also shows that the mental health literacy level in Chinese communities is much lower than the mainstreams. The factors contributing to these are mental health stigma in the Chinese Community. Also, emotional avoidance and tough emotion normalisations are part of the social norm on how to handle emotional issues. In addition, language barriers and health care systems being unfamiliar and disconnected to the communities needs with services providers. 

To reduce this gap, I tried to bridge the in-language community services providers and health care services organisations to the Our Culture Our Health session to introduce their services, which had received very positive feedback from both sides. Three participants have been referred to the in-language services providers after that session. One more health care services provider showed their interest to attend our health promotion session to promote their services in the future. This shows that while there is stigma in the community around mental health, a culturally safe and in-language environment is an important factor to overcome this barrier and makes participants more comfortable and open.

Our plan in the next steps

A lot of research has shown that migrants have higher mental health risks but have lower service access rates than the mainstream, plus mental health stigma, limited in-language and culturally safe services and programs delay the time for earlier treatment and quicker recovery stage. By the time the many migrant women reached the services, which is always at a very later severe stage, this means that they need a lot of support and a longer time to recover. There is a potential need of community based in language secondary prevention and tertiary prevention programs in the future.  

Our Culture Our Health has successfully trialled an in-language and culturally appropriate mental health promotion model and identified the different women’s age groups and their further needs on how to improve their mental wellbeing. Through these health promotion sessions Women’s Health East has also built up a strong connection with Chinese communities in the Whitehorse City Council, which will be a great foundation for further developments at all levels for in-language mental health promotion programs within Whitehorse and Melbourne’s broader eastern region. 

– by Jane Brierty, Bicultural Worker (Mandarin & English)


Migrant Information Centre (2020). Chinese Speaking Communities Profile. East Melbourne, pp. 7.