Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Social Science


Faculty of Regional Professional Studies

First Supervisor

Dr Pauline Meemeduma


This study is an attempt to examine the cultural appropriateness of the mental health system in relation to the Vietnamese refugee community in Australia. Culture and mental health, as widely acknowledged in the field of transcultural psychiatry, are closely linked. No aspect of the diagnosis or treatment methods can be justified without reference to the cultural traditions of the mental health system and the client. In a country like Australia, where multiculturalism is a dominant feature of the society, the need is even greater in incorporating culture into every aspect of the mental health system, if it desires to provide a culturally appropriate service to all immigrant groups. Every immigrant group brings with them different cultural values and attitudes. Included in these are viewpoints about mental health/illness that can diverge distinctly from those belonging to the more prevalent Anglo-Saxon cultural norms. How the illness is perceived as to its cause, treatment to healing are different in most cultures. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (1996), Vietnamese immigrants form one of the largest displaced people ever to be accepted into Australia as refugees. Their history of escape from the communist regime in Vietnam have sparked worldwide concerns about the state of their mental health. Their journey of escape is not without torture and trauma. Once settled into a country like Australia, they face many settlement obstacles. The cultural and social adjustments that they have to undergo have made them one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged immigrant groups in Australia. Faced with such a group that have a high predisposition to mental stress and anxiety, the question lies in whether the Australian mental health system is sufficiently informed and prepared to provide a service which has relevance and meaning to these people. I argue that the system has not adequately provided a service to such a purpose. Although much progress and research has been done, it still operates very much within a Western philosophy. Its traditions, values and attitudes reflect a worldview that make little cultural sense to these people. Its racist assumptions and attitudes which promote cultural superiority of the West has resulted in a system labelled as culturally inefficient. Racism has been socially constructed and entrenched within the system for many years and it's origins are lost in the history of Western culture. Its mental health system is essentially monocultural. Culturally inappropriate diagnostic and treatment programmes and a shortage of professionals with the necessary linguistic, cultural and clinical competencies are just some of the deficiencies that exist within the system. Many training programmes have failed to evoke practitioners into questioning the effectiveness and cultural appropriateness of these fundamental structures supporting existing models of service delivery. This study is done through a discussion of the history of racism, certain important concepts, for example, culture and mental health/illness and the social, historical and political experience of the Vietnamese. The rest of the research focuses on certain specific barriers of accessibility and concludes with how these barriers can be addressed. In doing so, it advocates for a totally non-racist approach from an international to a personal level of service. Only through this approach can the mental health system claim to provide a service that is culturally sensitive and meaningful.