Community-led approaches to mental health literacy

Content warning
Content warning: One of the films featured explores the relationship between mental health and domestic violence, which may be distressing for some viewers
Four people standing together facing the camera and smiling. All of the people have been involved in the Mental Health Literacy Project
  • Video

Last updated

8th November 2023


Ez Eldin Deng, Jagesh Panchal, Lyle Makepeace, Machehi Komba, Shankar Kasynathan

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Everyone deserves to feel happy and healthy. But we know not everyone living in Victoria has the opportunity to lead a healthy and happy life. 1 in 6 adolescents aged 12 to 17 and 1 in 3 young adults aged 18 to 25 report loneliness (Lim et al 2019). And with cultural diversity in Australia forever expanding, young people from diverse backgrounds face added barriers when it comes to their mental wellbeing. We’re talking about barriers like: 

  • Stigma and shame about mental illness  

  • Racism and discrimination  

  • Lack of relevant and accessible mental wellbeing awareness, education and literacy 

What is mental health literacy?

Mental wellbeing is the state of thriving (not just surviving) in various areas of life, such as in relationships, at work, play, and more, despite ups and downs.  

Mental health literacy is central to mental wellbeing. But we know mental health means different things to every community. With unique lived experience means a cultural lens must be applied. So, when it comes to mental health literacy, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.  

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People know their own communities best – they often know what is and isn't working well for them, and what is required to put things right.

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VicHealth’s mental health literacy pilot project 

VicHealth partnered with 3 multicultural consultants, who are community leaders and advocates, to lead mental health literacy pilot projects for their communities. They're taking tailored approaches to improve the mental wellbeing of young people in their communities; South Sudanese, South Asian and Pasifika.  

We know much more needs to be done in this space. And there’s a long way to go when it comes to supporting community-led approaches. Together, we’re making a start. 

This pilot project is an example of an equity focused health promotion model which focuses on the sharing of power in decision making and economic resources with communities. This pilot project was funded by the Department of Health through COVID-19 surge funding in response to the increasing levels of poor mental health in young people during and following the pandemic. 

Mental health literacy film showcase 

In 2023, the incredible work of these pilot projects was showcased and celebrated at a screening, conversation, and performance event. This conversation is available to watch below, as well as the culturally specific films developed by young filmmakers from each community.  

Hear what mental health means in these communities, why mental health literacy is important, and why projects like this are so essential for the health of the young people in the community. 

Panel video

Watch culturally specific films developed by community, for community:

Project Arokkiyam

A Helping Hand / Shuvethigah Antony

The Open Exchange: By community, for community

Spoken word - Lyle Makepeace

Discover more about each community-led project 

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The project, the navigators - it’s a voice. It’s making noise.

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Having a positive role model from the Sri Lankan community is really important. Mental health doesn’t go away - we can’t just put it on pause because we have a 9-5.

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Our view of mental health is misconstrued. It’s very hard to find words in language to describe mental health or anxiety.

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South Sudanese project

Looking to collaborate with communities to deliver self-determined health promotion projects?   

Whether you’ve worked on community-led projects before, or just not sure where to start, here’s our top 5 things to consider before you begin:  

  1. Led by community, for community.    
    Prioritise engaging trusted community leaders, advocates, or community controlled organisations to run the project over organisations that provide services to the community you want to work with. By doing this, the target audience is also the project creator, and your role is the enabler – providing support, resources, and a platform. Allow the community to take the lead as they know what will work– your direct participation is not always helpful or useful.  

  2. Clear goals. Flexible parameters.    
    It’s important to set definitive goals but have flexible parameters on how you'll achieve them. You'll need to support shifts and changes in the project including timelines, budgets, staffing, and even what the end result looks like. It’s okay if these change throughout the project as long as the project still aligns with the end goal, whatever that may be. Communities don’t have the luxury of being stringent about timelines and processes, and nor should they have to. It is up to you to work around what they need – flexibility is key!  

  3. Support beyond funding.    
    Support the community through other opportunities if you cannot support past the funding period. Just because a project has ended, and the funding stopped it doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved. The communities developing the programs will continue to implement and improve on their work after the funding has run out. Consider what long term support you can offer. Things like:  

  • Supporting them to secure other streams of funding  

  • Connecting them with other organisations that can support the project  

  • Amplifying their work across your own platforms and channels  

  1. Research and respect.    
    Understanding what the community needs, who they are, and how they want to work with you is key. There is no one size fits all approach. Every community is different and how they interact with the wider community, the government, or organisations will not be the same. Listen deeply, do your research, ask them what they need and be respectful of it.  

  2. Share knowledge.    
    Use this as an opportunity for knowledge transfer – this is a capacity building experience for the communities but should also be a capacity building experience for you / your organisation too. You can learn and develop from a collaborative project just as much (if not more) as the community you’re working with.   

Meet the consultants

Rita Seumanutafa

Pasefika consulant, Rita Seumanutafa, is standing in front of a brick wall earing a teal top and white cardigan smiling at the camera. There are some white flowers behind her right shoulder.

Rita Seumanutafa

Rita is a highly-respected leader, educator and member of the Pacific Island community in Melbourne. Since emigrating to Australia 18 years ago, Rita has founded/co-founded many Pacific-focused groups in order to provide more visible opportunities for her community to celebrate culture and identity – these groups include Pacific Island Creative Arts Australia Inc. (PICAA), The Melbourne Samoan Choir, and Miss Samoa Victoria Inc. Rita is a strong advocate for Pasefika community engagement, empowerment and safety, utilising a grass-roots approach throughout her work. As an academic, Rita is currently completing her PhD in Ethnomusicology at the Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne – her research focus being Samoan and Pacific music. Rita’s advocacy is dedicated to creating an empowered Pasefika community in Victoria, building the next generation of leaders and fostering stronger relationships and networks within community. Her most recent honours include an APRA Music Awards nomination (2019), Australia Day Award Winner for Cultural Achievement (Brimbank City Council, 2018), and Cultural Ambassador for Melbourne Storm Rugby League (2018). Rita remains strongly connected to her Pasefika community, as an active member of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, and currently as choir director of Pasefika Victoria Choir. Find out more - Vasa Consultancy 


Lyle Makepeace, a young Pasefika consultant, is standing in front of a wall of colourful grafiti facing the camera with their hands in their pockets. Lyle is wearing a silver chain necklace and black t-shirt and pants.

Lyle Makepeace

Lyle Makepeace also known by Mercii Makepeace or Makepeace Musik (they/them) is a Queer Pasefika non-binary person; driven by their sense of Freedom and Justice, they live life passionately as a singer, songwriter,  performer and advocate. As a strong advocate for Justice, they are passionate about decolonisation, LGBTQIA+ rights, and mental health awareness. Proudly a member of The Pacific Climate Warriors and The Pasefika Navigators, Lyle is dedicated to their community. Using their musical talents as another way for them to advocate, when Lyle isn’t performing or advocating, they are still finding ways to be involved within the communities they identify with, predominantly creative queer poc spaces. So it’s not unlikely you’ll catch Lyle amongst the crowd supporting fellow creatives/advocates/activists. Don’t be shy and say hey if you do. 

South Asian consultant, Shankar Kasynathan. Shankar is standing in front of a blue patterned wall smiling at the camera

Shankar Kasynathan

Arriving in Australia when he was a kid, as a Tamil refugee, thanks to Vic Health support through this project, Shankar is studying to become an accredited counsellor via AIPC and hopes to exclusively work with migrant and refugee communities in the near future. Alongside other facilitators attached to the newly created (and Vic Health funded) Open Exchange initiative, Shankar provides mental health assistance in both one-one settings as well as group based therapy. His recent work also includes the development of be-spoke training resources and programs for people who work with migrants and refugees who might be experiencing mental health challenges. As a lifelong mental health advocate, Shankar has previously worked with organisations such as MonashLink Health Service, East Kimberley Population Health Unit, the National Heart Foundation, Medicare Local Northern Territory and the Australian Red Cross. An accredited Mental Health First Aid instructor who has delivered sessions in both metropolitan and regional Victoria, in his spare time, Shankar is also currently a Commissioner for Multicultural Affairs in Victoria and the Deputy Chairperson of the Migrant Workers Centre. 


Ez Eldin Deng is a South Sudanese consultant. Ez is wearing a white ribbed beanie and cream ribbed swetaer with a denim jacket over the top. Ez is standing in front of a white wall with a wide smile

Ez Eldin Deng

Ez Eldin Deng is a South Sudanese Australian film and music video Director. He has directed numerous music videos, short films, and online educational content which have reached international audiences in festivals or on YouTube. His writing and directing work include the critically acclaimed ‘Road Dogs’ and award-winning short film, ‘Blvck Gold’. As a proud member of the African-Australian community, he has been a key creative in shaping Melbourne’s arts scene through community projects, workshops, consultation, strategic planning and delivering. EZ Deng co-founded Next in Colour, a ground-breaking creative initiative run by a team of African creative practitioners.