Mental Health Issue in Nepalese Community: Finding of Consultations

Raju Manandhar
An editor at Nepalese Australian

Melbourne, Australia Nepal Public Link Inc. (ANPL) organized an online forum to mark World Mental Health Day 2021 in collaboration with the social organizations and Western Sydney University (WSU) and to release a report on mental health issues in the Nepalese community. The zoom meeting run in the full capacity, was chaired by the ANPL President Nirajan Gauli. The event was supported by several Nepali community organisations. It was addressed by Australian government dignitaries and mental health experts. The virtual forum brought together our community’s some of the best experts on the subject of mental health issues and leading community campaigners who shared their views and suggestions while addressing the growing concern of the community.

From the chair The ANPL President Nirajan Gauli offered the welcome speech, “I would like to thank all the attendees for your gracious presence setting aside the family commitment at the weekend. ANPL has been working tirelessly and purposefully differently in the best service of the Nepalese community. We are proud of ANPL’s ongoing programs such as Road Safety, Water Safety and Mental Health and Wellbeing programs for the people who are impacted. It has also come across to help 55 Nepali international students by providing $120 voucher each who were affected by the pandemic.

ANPL has been delivering mental health first aid and understanding mental illness training and workshops since its inception and has been consistently doing it along with many innovative and much needed program for Nepali community in Australia. Bharat Nepal who moderated the event, is a passionate mental health advocate and trainer who has been liaising with different stakeholders in order to bring MHFA for Nepali community. Realising the gap in evidence and literature about mental health and Nepali community, has been working hard to bring this research team together and collaborated to conduct scoping consultation, actively involved in research and shed light on this very important issue affecting many in our community who may be suffering in silence or do not know where to seek help.

This is high time to have a webinar on this subject. During this pandemic everyone is impacted directly and indirectly by mental stress so this program will be relevant and of the great benefit to all concerned. Work and mental health are at the core of what is happening across the world today. I personally and on behalf of ANPL would like to extend hearty thanks WSU, Her Excellency, Acting Ambassador of Nepal to Australia Ms. Durapada Sapkota, the Australian Government dignitaries, the leading organisational members for participating in the online forum organised to celebrate wide range of mental health awareness programs across Australia on the occasion of the global event to raise awareness about mental health issues. I also would like to acknowledge the ANPL executive members, who have incredibly worked hard with sincere commitment and contributed to the success of ANPL.”

Sadhana Sharma, an Executive member of ANPL briefly outlined what ANPL has been doing so far, “It is an opportunity for us work together and act together to highlight inequality and social stigma can be addressed to ensure that people can enjoy good mental health and wellbeing. Let’s be partners and advocate for the people we love and live with.”

Victoria based community welfare activist Shailesh Ghimire working with the students from youth of Nepal and Victoria shared, “We come from the community where mental health is not reasonably discussed and it is compromised. We should talk about mental health issue and raise awareness about it among international students who have been reportedly suffering much. We ignore signs of mental health issues and it deteriorates as time passes by.  Many people consider mental health issues ignorable and insignificant.”

The Nepalese word ‘Chinta’, providing the title of the report, is a catch-all phrase that embraces multiple and diverse meaning associated with mental health and wellbeing.

A Remarkably Inspiring Case Study of an Extraordinary Mother

Rashi Singh, the NRNA Nari Nikunja Victoria Deputy Coordinator while presenting a case study shared mental health journey of a Nepalese mother, who went through lot of physical, mental and psychological challenges without realizing it was in fact a mental health issue known as maternal mental ill health or Pre-natal and post-natal mental health issues. She overcame her hopeless circumstances bravely and emerged all successful and earned the respect through her inspiring success story. The sufferers could not understand the way to reach out the professional and medical help. When the child was one and half years old the parents went to seek the medical and the child was diagnosed with autism. She reached out the counsellors for help and was able to understand her circumstance. When she came to learn that many professional helps were available things started getting better. She stated proudly that she did not hesitate to reach out to the people and express the child’s health issue.

This is the testament that health is available, and we can do well despite all these challenges. She appealed all not to hesitate to seek the help if required.

The Address of Acting Nepalese Ambassador to Australia

The Acting Nepalese Ambassador to Australia Ms. Durapada Sapkota remarked, “I would like to express my solidarity support to all my fellow Nepali members specially to those who are affected by the mental health.  I would like to acknowledge the presence of honorable minister, MPs and representative organisations.  This program is more important this year as we all are impacted by COVID 19, lockdowns followed by restrictions and lockdowns. The issues of mental health have been increased as we hear many suffering from anxiety, stress and mental health, one of the aspects we have been trying to address when the pandemic hit all of us in the beginning of 2020. I would like to acknowledge the honorary council. We initially formed a committee under the chairmanship of the honorary consulate general of Victoria Chandra Yonjan. We are also observing it very closely. While we are mostly students who are away from their family, they are the most vulnerable groups of people. They do not have their family to listen to them and they also have other issues and other family related issues, unfortunately we have not been able to do any research. ANPL is one institute which has been working tirelessly and consistently delivering in the field of mental health campaign. I would like to address three things: Let’s raise awareness of mental health or mental illness, and let’s work together to reduce stigma against those experiencing mental illness, and let’s promote positive mental health and wellbeing in our community and encourage them to seek help if they need it. On this day and month, I would like to appeal to all the participants, community members, everyone just to ask how your friends or your fellow community members or whoever you meet as students or any one you encounter just ask how they are doing or if they need any help. Nepalese Embassy in Australia, or the Nepal Government is very committed to doing something for them. It is very difficult for us to reach out everyone. I would like to thank all who have shared their stories of those people who have experienced the mental health issues and advocate for mental health just to fight this stigma.”

The Hon. MP Luke Donnellan, Minister for Child Protection Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Victoria addressed, “We know obviously during these times of pandemic it has been incredibly challenging financial time. On top of everything else, the international students are no longer doing the usual work I have been dealing with in terms of emergency hardship payments and food relief. Community leaders are important people you can talk about first aid mental health training and things like that Royal commission is there in the journey of actually fixing our mental health. I’d like to encourage many community leaders and many to take interest in mental health issues. Lots of things are to be done.  We will develop over time. We need to be more sophisticated the way we and that does need to be through partnership. So, I would like to encourage you to involve yourself in the journey as we build and redevelop our mental health. I would like to congratulate you on this work on being proactive and getting that work done and leading in things like advocacy.”

The levels of understanding about mental health and mental illness was mixed, with some basic knowledge high but other areas based on misconceptions. Community willingness to support friends and family with mental health issues was generally very positive, and yet discussion of mental illness was still contextualised by stigma and taboo.

The renowned community activist Rebel shared, “I’ve lived experience of mental health and I’ve survived it and still seeking help through it, but I’ve also survived and had a meaningful life and still living a productive life. I suffered from mental health and trauma because of domestic violence that I suffered. There are so many networks out there, but things have not really changed for our international students. They don’t have place to go to seek help. They are dismissive about their mental health issues. Because we have to start from our house, Let’s talk about mental health issues with kids and parents. We might be mental health workers, or we need to talk to our kids openly about mental health.”

The Hon. Peter Primrose, Member of New South Wales Legislative Assembly addressed, “I have always borne in mind both as social worker but also as a member of parliament and as a researcher on a number of issues to do with psychiatric illness. That you have to consider the individual in their social and family context. Always never just focus on the individual person. We all need to be reminded about people existing in their social, intellectual physical, emotional, and spiritual story context.”

Hon. MP Peter Khalil, Members of Wills, Victoria in his address said, “I would like to acknowledge the contribution all Nepalese Australians have made to Australia. I want to acknowledge the great work the ANPL Inc. has done in Mental Health as well as in road safety training and I congratulate you on the launch of your report into mental health with Western Sydney University. Focusing on mental health never has been more important. It has of course been a couple of difficult years Lockdowns get harder and harder each time. I ‘ve heard many stories about the long-lasting mental health impacts of COVID-19 isolation. It is an awful situation we are in. I encourage you to get vaccinated to protect yourself, your friends and family.”

Hikmat Ranamagar, an Executive member of ANPL, read with the consent of a Nepali international student who has been unwell with gambling addiction and mental health complication. This experience has been regretful. “Due to reasons unknown to myself, I was gripped by the gambling addiction. In the early phase of gambling days, it was very interesting experience as I brought home more money with the limited investment.  The winning little in the beginning filled me with a temptation to win more and gradually started betting heavily. I started losing more than what I earned. I worked whole day and spent all-night tension in Pokie venues. On the other hand, my studies too were much affected. Whatever money I had, I lost and spent many nights without food in the Flinders’ Street. When woke up, I went directly to my work. These tensions had adverse effect on my mentality.

Slowly I started losing my concentration in my work.  I lost my job because of my unusual behavior and lost even friends. I lost again and the situation got more complicated and challenging. I stopped going to college and room. Unconsciously, I started resorting to immoral and even illegal activities. Some Nepalese social campaigners came to learn about my miserable life and in their initiative in the coordination of Victoria police they rescued me out of the hopeless situation. Under their observation, for a month, I underwent treatment in Royal Melbourne Hospital. My visa had expired and through the court procedure immigration extended my visa. and the kindhearted and committed social workers like Nirajan Gauli not only helped me for the treatment in the hospital but also provided me with legal assistance. The court decided that I had not done any unacceptable works out of bad intention. Now I have regained my health and come back to normal health. I have to sort out all those tensions I gave to my parents sitting with them. So, I am returning to Nepal. I appeal to all of you if for any reasons if you have slipped in any bad addiction, please talk to the community leaders for assistance. I would like to be appeal all to extremely careful as this could unknowingly become a life-destroying habit.”

Video Address of the Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention the Hon. David Coleman

The video address of the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention the Hon David Coleman MP was presented. He shared, “Research like this is greatly important and the partnership between ANPL and WSU is to be celebrated. I commend the researchers, the students, and members from the Nepalese community here in Australia and in particular, the team and social work students from Western Sydney University. As the report notes, this is the first and there has been no research conducted on mental health issues among the Nepalese community in Australia in the past. The searches found familiar issues to those in a number of our multicultural communities and that a number of people living with mental illness in the Nepalese community are not seeking mental health treatment. This research reaffirms importance of the Australian government’s policy response on mental health and suicide prevention.

Mental health and suicide prevention are key priorities for the Australian government. There is much happening in this area. Our funding support for mental health and suicide prevention is unprecedented. This year’s budget provided 2,3000000000 dollars for the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. The largest Commonwealth investment in Australia’s history. This brings the government’s total estimated mental health spend in 2021/22 to 6.5 billion. health treatment centers through head to health and headspace and are focusing immediate support in COVID-19 outbreak areas. The Department of Health is working closely with culturally linguistically diverse peak organizations in NSW to share information. Furthermore, the Australian and NSW Government are jointly funding a 17 million dollars mental health Support Package. The Australian government and I look forward to working closely with  Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities and organizations including the Nepalese community here in Australia to fulfill that aim.”

His video address was followed by the launching of the scoping consultation and its findings jointly presented by ANPL and school of Social Science WSU.

Launching of the Scoping Consultation and its Findings

Two consults had been done by the team one in Sydney and one in Melbourne.

Report on Nepalese Community Consultation on Mental Health Literacy was presented jointly by the team researchers on Mental health issues led by Dr Neil Hall, the Director of Academic Programs for Social Work and Social Welfare at WSU

Bharat Nepal is a founding president of Australia Nepal Public Link, a Population Health Practitioner, an Accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor

Dibya Shree Chhetry is a WSU Research Assistant and Sessional tutor and a graduate of the Master of Social Work (Qualifying).

Nirajan Gauli is Project Manager at Whittlesea City Council, Victoria, current President of ANPL, a Road Safety Auditor and passionate advocate of road safety issues in Nepalese Community

The project is a partnership between Australia Nepal Public Link and Western Sydney University. It undertook a consultation with community members and international students from Nepal residing in Australia to understand the mental health literacy among residents from Nepal living in Sydney and Melbourne, with a view to designing a broader research project to explore the knowledge and experience of mental health in the Nepalese community in Australia.

The team acknowledged their debt to all including specially the students and community members from Nepalese community in Australia who invested their time and efforts to make their inputs during consultations. They also thanked the team of social work students from Western Sydney University – Rishika Parathan, Amber Duong, Christina Deng, Amanpreet Bawa, and Si Thu Htet Naing. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of volunteer members of the Nepalese community – Jyoti Simkhada (President ANPL Victoria), Gaurav Khadka, Dr Sandesh Pantha, Sadhna Sharma, Tara Gaire, Uddhav Khadka, Richa Sharma Aryal, Anil Shrestha and Yashoda Dhakal – who assisted with organising the consultations and facilitating for preparation of the report.

Community Leaders’ Views and Suggestions

Dr. Raju Adhikari said, “It was very informative session and we can do lot of such interactive programs socially through the community in different ways.  Covid impact on mental health would continue for decades to come. What ANPL has done is just a great start. I would like to congratulate and extend best wishes to ANPL and all the experts and researchers involved in this mission.”

Chandra Yonjan, the Honorary Consul-General of Nepal to Victoria, “From the presentations and expressions made during the session, it was evident that ANPL has been doing an excellent job. The Nepalese Embassy to Australia and consulate offices look forward to working with ANPL and other organizations working in the mental health sector. We should work unitedly for those people in our community who have been facing mental health issues.”

Australian Nepalese Journalist Association (ANJA) President former ANPL General Secretary Rishi Acharya shared, “The Mental health issues have shaken our conscience. It has given our community a cause for a serious concern. We need to do some critical thinking to solve this serious issue.  ANPL is significantly raising the public awareness to address this issue, which is of great importance but overshadowed as other issues have been high on the agenda of the community. We have noticed the effectiveness of the first aid and road safety campaign launched by ANPL. It has raised the hopes of all concerned. The research conducted jointly by ANPL and WSU clearly shows that this issue is very severe, and we cannot afford to ignore it. Mental issues have been verbally mentioned but this inspiring and ground-breaking research has documented the data and evidence which will serve as the reference point for the upcoming researchers and it will form a reliable foundation to make further research with the encouraging outcome. I personally and on behalf of ANJA would like to commit to work collaboratively with ANPL and other organisations working to tackle the mental health issues.”

The prominent community leader FeNCCA President Dr. Krishna Hamal shared, “When Bharat Nepal presented a paper on mental health a decade ago, many people in our community thought that the issue was non-existent. We have come to realize now that minor issue may assume an alarming challenge and even life-threatening. We must tackle it on time. Thank you ANPL for raising this issue very relevantly and significantly and hope it will organise such events in the future making maximum people involve and FeNCCA is always keen on cooperating with ANPL.”

Dr. Lal Rawal, Senior Lecturer at University of Central Queensland, Sydney Campus said, “ANPL has done a great job especially starting from the scoping. It has opened doors of conducting more research in this broad and important issue. The government has arranged the funding to organise programs to address mental health. We can have more sample size and more robust evidence and apply rigorous methodology in further researches and work together in the direction of receiving larger funds. I would be happy to continue to contribute as a volunteer.”

Mental Health First Aid Training for Nepalese Community Members in Sydney 2020 Source:Nepalese Australian Photo: Rishi Acharya
Mental Health First Aid Training for Nepalese Community Members in Sydney 2020 Source:Nepalese Australian Photo: Rishi Acharya

Anil Shrestha, Nepali community activist who has keen interest in mental health research said, “This evidence will be important for today and in the future. We need to learn the significance of stigma. One of the major challenges is a kind of duty of care when we encourage student to reach to a point where they can go and seek for a help. There is not enough help especially for international students. All community organisations including NRNA, Australia should make collective effort to address the mental health issues. If we bring all those points together, it will work as reliable evidence.”

Punam Panta, the leading community campaigner said, “Stigma is a living reality in our community. Mental health issue is deepening. Let’s start making noise and share stories and support each other and support those who need the assistance. We need to share it with family and friends and seek for right counselling. Recently, I had a traumatic experience caused by the untimely demise of the reputed doctor, Dr. Kush Shrestha with whom I worked together in ANDMA. When someone reaches the sufferer out, it will be easy for him/her to cope with the emotional challenge. If you know something abnormal happening to you, you should share with your family and friends. If we see some people showing some signs or forms of mental illness, we should communicate with them to help or involve them.”

Ranju Thapa, the former ICC spokesperson and the reputed promoter of women right expressed, “Nepalese people I dealt with did not usually share about their mental health. People even do not recognize that they are suffering from mental illness. Surveys have shown that 13 percent of the people are mentally affected. Because of our culture, we do not share our mental health issues with others and understand ourselves. When we advise the people regarding their mental health, it may be backfired. Gambling also leads to mental illness. People should speak about their mental problems. Our business in Education is going to work with international students to discuss comprehensively about mental health issues.”

NAV (Nepalese Association of Victoria) President Ram Gurung said, “We are very proud to be a supporter of this much fruitful, meaningful and purposeful event and I personally and on behalf of NAV would like to thank the organiser ANPL and all for their enthusiastic participation.  All organisations should work together to promote the programs which will essentially be of the benefit to the community and through mutual cooperation we can achieve our common goal. He acknowledged that partnership between ANPL and NAV in bringing MHFA in Victoria and thanked trainer Bharat Nepal for wonderful training that was so relevant and enhanced knowledge about mental health and provided valuable and important skills to provide psychological support to person suffering from mental illness.”

If you need help, contact the following services

Lifeline: 131114
Kids Helpline: 1800551800
Mensline Australia: 1300 7899 978
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Headspace: 1800650890