UOW researcher explores impact of mental illness on Pacific communities in Australia

Research responds to alarming youth suicide trend across Pacific region

UOW researcher explores impact of mental illness on Pacific communities in Australia

A pioneering research project will set out to determine the prevalence of mental illness in Pacific communities in Australia.

Concerned about a gap in Australian data, and the rising youth suicide rate among Indigenous people across the Pacific region, University of Wollongong Associate Professor of Social Work Jioji Ravulo will spend the next year exploring the prevalence and impact of mental illness, and help-seeking behaviour among Pacific communities in Australia.

Professor Ravulo will lead a small team of researchers who have been recently awarded a $170,000 federal research grant to create a better understanding of mental illness rates in this minority group.

“Unfortunately, our Pacific community has recently experienced the sudden loss of several young people due to suicide, and we are wanting to better understand how we may be able to prevent such situations through the development of mental health literacies,” Professor Ravulo said.

“This can be achieved by having a broader understanding of how mental illnesses impact our people, and the way in which they may seek support for such issues.”

The issue is personal for Professor Ravulo, whose father is Fijian.

He said the stigma around mental health was a serious challenge confronting Pacific communities.

“Pacific languages may not currently have adequate terms and phrases to describe mental illness concepts,” Professor Ravulo said.

“I believe there is a lack of understanding of mental illness as a health concept as opposed to a spiritual concept; we’re trying to demystify some of these stigmas.”

The research will develop strategies to help mental health services cater to the needs of Pacific Islanders in a culturally sensitive way.

The researchers based at UOW’s South Western Sydney Campus will work with communities in Greater Western Sydney, where Australia’s largest cohort of Pacific Islanders live.

They will engage with the community and open collective conversations about mental health with focus groups comprised of Pacific youths, family carers and mental health agencies. Researchers will also use surveys to understand the prevalence of mental illness.

A steering committee comprised of community, industry and professional leaders will help them to develop educational resources and deliver training to relevant workplaces.

The NSW Ministry of Health will part-fund the project, allowing researchers to combine with three primary health networks including WentWest, Nepean-Blue Mountains and South West Sydney.

“We are excited to be able to receive such funding to support the creation of an initiative that meaningfully engages diverse communities in Australia,” Professor Ravulo said. “It’s the first of its kind, and so we are hoping to share our lessons with other community groups across the state.”

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