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Auslan mental health services overrun by demand…

While she was living in university accommodation, Catherine Dunn was raped.

She was referred to counselling by her accommodation service, but there was an important consideration they didn’t take into account — Ms Dunn is Deaf.

“There were no online booking options and I was frequently called despite clearly specifying that I do not use the phone,” Ms Dunn said, via an Auslan interpreter.

“During sessions, I was communicating through spoken English, but was not able to communicate freely. I didn’t feel culturally safe.”

Ms Dunn was not offered an Auslan interpreter to help her communicate with the counsellor, and she said she would be reluctant to use one for such a sensitive situation given the potential for a breach of privacy.

“As a Deaf professional within my community, I know that the pool of Auslan interpreters is very small and that there are not enough opportunities for them to further their training within the mental health field.

“Additionally, the deaf community is not unlike a small country town like the one I grew up in. Our privacy is hard to protect when you might bump into service providers at the supermarket or even at work.”

Karli Dettman is a Deaf counsellor based in Melbourne. She said, miscommunication or a lack of cultural awareness can have significant consequences for how Deaf people are assessed for mental health conditions.

“There is a higher percentage of misdiagnosis for the Deaf population,” Ms Dettman said, via an Auslan interpreter.

For example, if a psychiatrist is observing a Deaf person who is really angry when they’re signing, the [psychiatrist] might misconstrue it as aggression. Whereas it really might just be the language or frustration with communication problems.”

Ms Dettman believes that having more mental health professionals who are fluent in Auslan would improve the diagnosis and treatment of their mental health conditions.

“If you can communicate and make that language transfer easier,” she said, “then you will remove that frustration that’s underneath it.”

By Fiona Murphy for ABC News