Research projects

Depression and ethnic minority communities in Australia : current situation and future perspectives

Principal Researchers

Harry Minas1,2 and Steven Klimidis1,2

Associate Investigator:  Renata Kokanovic1


1 Centre for International Mental Health, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, and

2 Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit, St. Vincent’s Health Melbourne



Award Type

beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year


Project brief

The study involved a national ‘scoping' of activities in relation to depression and ethnic minority communities. The study incorporated a systemic examination including the policy environment, Australian based research, and service provision activities.

All major relevant policies, strategic plans and related documents under the National Mental Health Strategy, both Commonwealth and State/Territory were examined for their relevance to the development of mental health responses in relation to mental disorder and specifically depression and ethnic minority communities. The analysis revealed a very progressive policy environment with respect to ethnic minority groups and the availability of a strong policy basis for the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate service responses to members of such communities.

Examination of Australian research included identification of internationally published research literature by Australian researchers and institutions, examination of research priorities and funded research by the major funding bodies, an assessment of completed higher degree theses in Australian tertiary institutions on depression, a survey of current academic departments and research institutions in search for relevant projects incorporating ethnic minority groups in their design, and examination of existing databases that are currently available that could be used for secondary analyses to inform on issues of depression and ethnic minority communities.

Key Findings

The main findings from the work is that Australia houses a significant number of researchers who have had experience in cross-national/cross-cultural mental health research with a predominance of work in the international setting rather with Australia's immigrant and refugee groups. Local research was focused in only a few areas including, refugee and asylum seeker issues, post-partum depression, and suicide. A number of other studies were identified on diverse issues related to mental health in ethnic minority groups, but on the whole there has not been a significant body of work that can inform on the wide range of issues affecting mental health (and less so for depression and related disorders specifically) and service delivery practice in relation to ethnic minority groups.

Examination of completed higher degree theses submitted to Australian tertiary institutions over the past decade revealed only a trace number of studies with any focus on cultural factors or ethnic minority groups, highlighting the lack of experienced researchers to work with research designs complicated by cultural and linguistic diversity issues. Examination of funding processes revealed that major funding bodies (e.g., NHMRC, ARC, etc.) provided sufficient scope within their research priorities to fund relevant research in this area. In contrast there has been an insufficient number of studies funded over the past five years bearing on the issue of interest. Actual funding reflected the perpetuation of established research topics (e.g., analysis of suicide, refugee issues) with little apparent scope for expanding into the broader areas of clinical and population mental health issues relevant to ethnic minority groups.

Service delivery was examined through a national survey searching for current programs and projects. The survey included ethnic community organizations, health service providers, Divisions of General Practice, community mental health service providers, Victorian Primary Care Partnerships, departments of public health, local government, women's health services, migrant resource centres, transcultural mental health services, and refugee services. In all 1480 organizations were contacted. An effort was made to sample organizations in major regional towns as well as capital cities. The survey screened organizations for relevant programmes and if these were available it requested details for each program and any relevant documents describing the programmes to be sent to us. The overall number of relevant programmes were few (98 programmes from 91 organizations of 422 organizations) with variable focus on depression/or mental health and ethnic minority groups. Of the 98 programs 65% were specifically focused on ethnic minority groups, the rest being mainstream programmes.

Relevant programmes were analysed in relation to reported activities and strategies; reported barriers; strategies and support that are required to overcome barriers, perceived role in future work on depression in ethnic minority communities, partnerships and programme involvement of ethnic minority consumers/carers/other ethnic minority community members. Qualitative analysis indicated several broad themes that need to be addressed in meeting the mental health needs of ethnic minority communities. These include ‘information needs' of organizations, ‘organizational needs' particularly in the establishment and maintenance of partnerships, ‘resource needs', and ‘process barriers' to both service delivery and engagement of ethnic communities in effective collaborations.

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