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Supporting Chinese Mental Health Service Users

Persistent Barriers and Changing Needs

  • Date05 December 2023

By Dr Lynn Tang


Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

At the Department of Health Studies, Royal Holloway University of London, we teach and research on how social and environmental determinants impact on our health and wellbeing. For different ethnic groups, their health and experience of health service can be shaped by determinants such as class, gender and ethnicity in different ways.

I was invited to share my research on Chinese mental health service users in the  ‘New Directions in Mental Health Social Work: National and International Perspectives’, organised by Kingston University, on 29th November, 2023. Chinese communities in the UK are a diverse group in terms of their places of origin, migration experiences and dialects etc. There are different mental health needs related to factors such as pre-migration trauma, acculturation stress, caring responsibilities, work stress, acculturation stress, social isolation and aging. While these are longstanding issues that Chinese communities face, there are new needs related to the Anti-Asian racism during COVID-19 and the latest migration wave from Hongkongers in the past two years. Yet, according to the official statistics, compared to other ethnic groups, Chinese people are the least likely to use mental health services. What are the barriers that prevent Chinese people from accessing mental health services?

My research and other scholars’ works identified barriers that persist. Chinese people consider health care system difficult to navigate. There is a language barrier and the lack of trust in interpreters. Stigma prevents people from revealing their personal troubles with others. For those who sought help, some shared with me their grievance on the coercion they encountered when being involuntarily admitted to the hospital. The racist comments from other service users in the ward also upset them. One told me she valued the day centre as the activities there helped her recover. Yet it was closed because of funding cut.

How can services respond to changing needs and persistent barriers? I talked about the need to understand the changing social determinants that impact on different groups of Chinese people, e.g. the push factors behind the migration wave of Hongkongers. To understand these, it is important to work with existing and newly formed Chinese community groups. Yet these groups are often under-resourced and the funding received are short-lived. Statutory services should work with community groups to ensure culturally sensitive practices can be developed, embedded and sustained in the mental health services.

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