Key messages

  • Refugees and asylum seekers are at greater risk of mental illness in Australia and face significant barriers to care. The Victorian refugee and asylum seeker health action plan and various services seek to combat the barriers facing asylum seekers and refugees.

Refugees and asylum seekers are at greater risk of developing mental illness than many other population groups in Victoria.

This can be due to pre-migration experiences of trauma and loss, as well as their experiences in Australia, where they face language difficulties, lack of family and social networks and problems finding stable housing and employment.

Barriers to refugees and asylum seekers accessing mental health services

Refugees and asylum seekers rarely seek out mental health support in the immediate settlement period.

This can be because they do not know what services are available, or because the concept of mental health services is unknown or unacceptable to them.

Other issues, such as employment, housing, schooling for their children, or serious physical health problems may seem more pressing in the first 12 months or so after arrival. In some cases, refugees are simply ‘not ready’ to talk about their experiences and emotions.

They may only come into contact with the service system at a late stage of the development of a mental illness, when their symptoms are severe and complicated by other social and medical problems.

Victorian refugee and asylum seeker health action plan

The Victorian refugee and asylum seeker health action plan 2014–2018 articulates the actions the Victorian Government will take to improve the physical and mental health of refugees and asylum seekers.

The action plan was developed in partnership with the Victorian Refugee Health Network and it outlines five priority action areas:

  • accessibility
  • expertise in refugee health
  • service coordination
  • service responsiveness
  • cultural responsiveness
  • health literacy and communication.

Services for refugees and asylum seekers

Victorian Refugee Health Network

The Victorian Refugee Health Network maintains a list of specialist, tertiary and child and adolescent mental health services for refugees and asylum seekers.

Foundation House

The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (also known as Foundation House) provides services to people of refugee backgrounds in Victoria who have experienced torture or other traumatic events in their country of origin or while fleeing that country.

Foundation House has offices in Brunswick, Dandenong, Sunshine and Ringwood, and provides services in partnership with other agencies in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura, Shepparton, Swan Hill and the Latrobe Valley.