A new health report is calling for mental health to be addressed as a key priority for Asian New Zealanders as suicide cases rise amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The "Asian Public Health In Aotearoa Report" by The Asian Network Inc (TANI), released on Monday morning, said suicides among Asian people here, while still relatively low, have increased significantly.
Asians previously had the lowest overall rate of suicide of all ethnic groups in New Zealand, but the rate is now higher than that of Pacific peoples and Asians were the only ethnic group to show an increase last year.
"Address mental health for Asians in NZ as a key priority," the report said.
"Traditional concepts of mental health, along with cultural stigma, differing presentations of mental distress, and lack of appropriate services contribute to low rates of diagnosis and low numbers of Asian people seeking professional support for mental health."
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in demand for mental health services.
Asian Family Services reported a 150 per cent increase in calls to their phone counselling service and a 138 per cent increase referrals between May and July.
"Mental health issues and suicide affecting Asians in NZ remain a relatively hidden problem," it said.
"Cultural stigma likely plays a large part in self reporting, along with other cultural differences believing mental health issues are not a reason to seek support."
Asian youth, particularly Asian girls and Chinese, East Asian, and Southeast Asians are reporting high levels of mental and emotional distress, the report said.
Racism against Asians in NZ has also spiked in the pandemic, the report found.
"Racism and discrimination are an important determinant of health; Asians report
some of the highest rates of discrimination in NZ," it said.
Instances of racism increased since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this affects the health on both an individual and structural level, particularly affecting mental health and access to suitable services.
The report is a review of the health status of Asian Kiwis and highlighted areas of concerns. It also made several recommendations to address Asian health needs.
The report found Asians to be the least likely to seek healthcare when unwell and also form the lowest of all major ethnic groups for enrolment in primary healthcare.
"Screening rates, including cancer screening and HPV screening are low," it said.
"New migrants and refugees have particularly low rates of service usage."
The report calls for an Asian health plan to provide "a consistent, equitable approach" and a framework for improving funding to current Asian health services and the establishment of new ones.
It also recommended more targeted Asian-specific services, training and a culturally appropriate workforce.
"Asian-specific training should be part of cultural competency training and education
at all levels to accompany that which already exists for the Māori and Pacific
populations," it said.
The report said increasing community engagement and accessibility of language and resources was imperative to increasing service usage.
"More research on the health status of Asians in NZ is needed, particularly for Asian
sub populations," the report said.
"While Chinese and Indian are still currently the largest sub populations of Asians in NZ, other groups also have significant numbers and are rapidly growing – so we need a more accurate picture of their needs."
The Asian population was the fastest growing ethnic group according to the 2018
Census. It is projected to reach 26 per cent of the total population by 2043.
Indian and South Asian people are found to have higher rates of cardiovascular conditions and diabetes, and East and Southeast Asian peoples have higher rates of cancer.
TANI director Vishal Rishi said the utilisation of services was particularly concerning.
"Major barriers include racism and discrimination, English language proficiency, cultural differences, lack of awareness of services, and lack of appropriate services," Rishi said.
However, this provided an opportunity for a national plan or strategy to give a consistent approach to Asian health.
Anusha Guler, Ministry of Ethnic Communities executive director operations, said Asians were the fastest growing ethnic group and make a huge contribution economically and culturally.
"With such a growing population it is important to make sure that New Zealand's health
system is meeting their needs," Guler said.
She described this report as one of the most significant reviews of Asian health in New Zealand, and its analysis will be "valuable in future planning and helping create better health outcomes".