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Migrants' health issues in spotlight

PUBLISHED: 10:39 11 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:29 05 July 2010

THE best ways to help migrant workers upset by poor living conditions and traveller children who are failing in the education system were among the issues raised at a conference in Norwich on Friday.

THE best ways to help migrant workers upset by poor living conditions and traveller children who are failing in the education system were among the issues raised at a conference in Norwich on Friday.

The Dilemmas in Diversity conference, held to mark World Mental Health Day, was the second event that the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust has held.

Yesterday's conference explored the issues around minority communities and how they access mental health services. Held at Norwich City Football Club, it attracted health professionals from around the country.

Wendy Franks, from Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, reported on her research with local migrant workers and community leaders.

She said many “commonly experienced” emotional distress linked to poor living conditions and practical issues, but that this was seen as caused by their situation rather than a “mental health” issue. She said migrant workers were less likely to seek help from the NHS because of this, and also because of a stigma around mental health problems.

She said that migrant workers might not realise the availability of NHS health services, because their expectations were based on their home country. Some may have had “previous negative experiences” of the NHS, or have a fear of representatives of authority and lack of trust in services.

She said lack of interpreting and translation could be a barrier in the health system, as well as limited availability of services, and GPs failing to identify a problem as a mental health issue or only offering medication. She said better staff attitudes and knowledge, better communication and more talking therapies, rather than medicine, would help to improve the service.

David Cudworth, senior lecturer at the University of East London, said some teachers were frustrated by teaching traveller children whose home lives made it difficult for them to do as well at school as they would like. He said the pressure to meet government targets meant that schools often selected high-achieving pupils at the expense of equal opportunities.

He suggested that schools should have less performance measurement, a less rigid attendance system and a more flexible attendance policy. He said: “This would enable schools to be able to adhere fully to an inclusive agenda in order to benefit the majority of all children in the current 'multicultural' educational system.”

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