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Asian Family Services is the biggest Asian mental health and addiction NGO agency in the country, and this reflects how little resources we have as a community. In the lockdown, many of AFS’s health promoters and counsellors have provided extra support for their communities, including translating COVID-19 information due to the panic reaction posted through social media from the communities.  This was due to the lack of available language-specific information about the lockdown and the risk of COVID-19.

To support the communities meant that many of AFS’s staff worked longer hours and harder to support the needs of the Asian community. The past few months have been the busiest time for AFS, including our Asian Helpline.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, our services saw an increase in demand for mental health support. For example, our Asian Helpline, a free telephone counselling service delivered by highly trained and qualified counsellors, psychologists and social workers who can speak a range of Asian languages (i.e. English, Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese), received a notable increase in the number of calls. New clients included individuals needing support with depression and anxiety-related issues exacerbated by the situation with COVID-19. Some clients were referred to AFS from Need to talk? 1737 because they had seen a drastic increase in Chinese/Asian callers needing linguistically appropriate counselling. We responded by expanding the scope of our non-gambling mental health services on a voluntary basis. These issues are not picked up by other agencies due to the Asian communities’ lack of understanding of what help and support are available or not able to speak English fluently proves a challenge for the Asian community. Many times, the counsellors or social workers were not able to refer clients out to other services because of lack of culturally and linguistically support available for them.

Concerningly, AFS is seeing more diverse family distress, mental health and social care needs of our clients; this is likely to reflect the broader inequity issues experienced by Asian communities. In addition to concerns around race-related bullying and discrimination in schools and workplaces. Mental health problems brought the attention of our clinicians since the Covid-19 outbreak covered a wide range of social groups and issues. We are receiving a higher number of cases involving immigrant Asian women experiencing family violence. These clients are in a particularly dangerous situation because they have limited knowledge of the New Zealand system and have nowhere to escape the physical, emotional, and financial abuse even after they have sought support from the police and health services. We are supporting international students experiencing psychosomatic symptoms related to worries and guilt around not being able to look after their parents and older relatives in the home country during the global Covid-19 crisis. They are having trouble adjusting to their new online learning environments and mounting anxiety around future employment, visa status and uncertainties about post-graduation. We are offering health information and counselling to new parents struggling to manage their worries about the risks of contracting coronavirus and the safety of their infants. Most of the referred clients from Need to talk? 1737 are already vulnerable, non-English speaking older people with long-term health conditions and/or mobility limitations who have become completely isolated during Alert Level 4 lockdown. We are providing ongoing support to these clients through our counselling services and connect them with community voluntary delivery service.

Historically, Asian communities had low utilisation of mental health services due to cultural and resettlement reasons. The rapid increase in the number of clients approaching our services for support in recent months indicates significant gaps and unmet needs within Asian communities. We are especially concerned about the long-term mental health impact of the COVID -19 crisis, which can persist long after the most immediate threat of the virus is over.

Barriers to accessing timely and appropriate information and services was the main issue linking these cases. Currently, there are very limited culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health resources and support services for Asian peoples. The support and resources that have been developed to help people look after their mental health during the pandemic are primarily only available in English and Asian peoples who have limited English have found it challenging to navigate services and access resources. To address these issues, the Ministry of Health has provided a small grant as part of the COVID -19 National Psychosocial Campaign response for AFS to extend our Asian Helpline services and counselling services online. It also allows us to do some translation works from the information of the Ministry of Health to the different languages, such as Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai. However, the grant is only for six months. We understand the need will be higher than this, and more issues or problems will be emerging. i.e. We now have more individual express their financial worries about hours being cuts or losing their jobs.

Besides working in the frontline to support the Asian communities, AFS has also been advocating the issues to government agencies to ensure they are fully aware of the challenges faced by the Asian communities.

We have produced many language-specific information and resources which you can find from our webpage as well as Facebook and YouTube channel. We also have worked with Drug Foundation to create a couple of language-specific resources; please see below.



Asian Helpline 0800 862 342

 - by Ivan Yeo, Asian Family Services


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