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The Underutilization of Mental Health Services: Perspective of Indian Women in Christchurch

Abstract

With over one in three New Zealanders born overseas, New Zealand is home to a highly diverse and multicultural population. Within this population, the ‘Asian’ group remains the third largest ethnic group in New Zealand. Despite the growing population size of this group, and the negative impacts migration may pose on immigrant mental health, Asians currently demonstrate the lowest rates of mental health service utilization compared to all other ethnic groups in New Zealand. The exponential growth of the Indian population in New Zealand in particular, alongside the absence of literature highlighting the mental health prevalence, needs and experiences of mental health service use within the Indian ethnic group both in New Zealand and globally, has provided an opportunity for further research into this community.

This study investigates the underutilization of mental health services by Indian women aged 35-50 years living in Christchurch, New Zealand. This research has adopted a qualitative methodology, to explore the experiences and opinions of mental health service utilization by Indian women and has aimed to discover the reasons that may contribute towards Indian womens’ reluctance to engage with mental health services.

Data was collected through in depth interviews with six participants. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and then analyzed using a thematic analysis.Two main findings emerged from this research.

Participants regarded the prevalence of mental health stigma as a key barrier to service use. Public stigma, everyday discriminations and negative labelling of women with mental disorders, prevented service use within this community. Indian womens’ reluctance to utilize mental health services were also associated with culturally embedded Indian values and traditionally defined gender roles, further highlighting the complexity of service use.

Participants also expressed the failure of current health providers to provide culturally appropriate services specifically tailored to the needs of Indian women. Conflicts between collectivist Indian values and the Western individualistic principles of current counselling/psychotherapeutic services, meant these services did not appeal to Indian women. Lack of ethnic representation within mental health service staff, inadequate cultural competency training for professionals and the absence of collaboration between mental health professionals and the Indian community, were factors influencing service use, and if improved could increase Indian womens’ engagement with mental health services in Christchurch.

This study is the first in New Zealand to explore mental health service use within the Indian community, and hopes to provide valuable insight into how Indian women perceive current mental health services, the complex cultural challenges they may experience with their mental health and illness, while also raising important issues for mental health care.