Two years ago, the BUV held forums at 3 different locations in order to find out what the most important issues our BUV LOTE (Language Other Than English) Churches were facing. These were held at Yarraville, Footscray and Croydon.
The most common and urgent issue was concern about mental health - post-traumatic stress (as a result of spending many years in refugee camps), depression and substance abuse (as a result of being displaced from their homeland and living amongst other cultures and surroundings).
In order to provide adequate support for these communities, we decided to work on ways in which we can help people in those communities (initially, Burmese from Karen and Chin backgrounds) through a Mental Health Awareness Program.
This program would be a long-term project. However, as a priority, we thought that a Basic Mental Health Training with access to information in the Burmese, Karen and Hakha Chin languages would be the ideal starting point for Pastors and Leaders of our BUV LOTE Churches.
We spoke with some potential organisations with which we could partner with in the delivery of the Training. After consideration, we decided to partner with Foundation House, a not-for-profit organisation. The background and experience of their trainers was an ideal fit for the community that we wanted to provide the training – refugees who had to flee their countries as a result of persecution.
So far, we have organized 2 training days, held late 2016 in Sunshine and Croydon
The Mental Health Training session was led by Lew Hess with Burmese translation provided by Mu Mu. There were fifty participants from eleven of our BUV Karen and Chin Churches. Lew Hess used the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan to introduce the topic of Mental Health. He said that, “this story helps us reflect on the challenges involved in being a refugee and settling into a new land. This story is rich with learning for all of us in Melbourne 2016”.
Lew then used three case studies in order to encourage the attendees to think about some mental health issues. The first case had to do with depression and how the person and his family could cope with it.
The second case study was about a clash of cultural values with the daughter asking her parents whether her boyfriend could sleep overnight at their home. Her parents were so distressed by this question that they could not speak and left thinking, “How could she ask such a thing?”
The third case study was aimed to help those who went through a similar situation within their own community. It was about the hopelessness that many refugees faced as a result of family violence, sometimes leading to suicide.
Through those cases, Lew Hess encouraged the participants to reflect on their own particular situations and experience.
Lew Hess also provided brief details about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The session ended with a reflection of the importance of prayer but also of professional and community assistance.
The Mental Health Training session was led by Radhika Santhanam-Martin and Jasmina Mulugeta with Burmese translation provided by Anna. There were twenty five participants from eight of our BUV Karen and Chin Churches.
Radhika introduced the Mental Health topic by commenting on the fact that our understanding of what this is all about varies according to our cultural background.
She started by mentioning that there are several areas of our lives when we are considering our Health:
- Mental and
All of these inter connected. Looking at Mental Health, our understanding of what it is varies according to our cultural background. Some communities consider mental illness to be like any other illness whereas other communities will not even talk about it.
Traditionally, three words are used to describe Mental Illness:
- MAD – these are normally admitted to hospitals
- BAD – these are normally having issues with the Law – police or legal system
- SAD – these will need help from counsellors, pastors or other Church people.
To determine whether a person has mental illness, five signs that need to be considered are:
- SLEEP – has it changed?
- EATING – added weight or lost weight, not eating?
- ENERGY – More, Less or No energy?
- MOOD – Irritable, Happy or Changeable?
- INTEREST – Loss of interest in things previously liked?
Minor Mental Health Issues include:
- GRIEF and LOSS.
In cases of minor Mental Health issues, the person normally needs:
- A person he / she can trust to help go through it
- A safe place
- Medical help and also others for support – especially in cases of Family Violence, Substance Abuse, Gambling and Suicidal Thinking.
Major Mental Health issues – behaviours of the person have not changed but the person has developed new behaviours, like:
- Swearing a lot in public
- Talking to self all the time
- Laughing to self
- Hearing voices and acting on those voices
- Seeing things others do not see
- Interpreting the world in a way no one understand
- Fixed belief – just talking about it will not change beliefs, the person needs professional help.
People with major mental health issues need medical help and should be hospitalised.
Further Mental Health Awareness Training Opportunities for LOTE churches will be offered during 2017. For more information contact Marc Chan, BUV’s Multicultural Consultant on email@example.com