The scenario

You have been providing Li with support for six months. Your role is to help her develop the skills to live more independently and help her access the community. Li is 21 years old. She was born in China and has been living in Australia for five years. She lives with her family, which includes her mother, father and younger brother. Li has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and autism. She is generally more comfortable with a family member present.

Li grew up speaking Mandarin and, although she lacks confidence speaking English, you have never had difficulty communicating with her. You have noticed that Li pays attention to detail and that she keeps a diary so that she does not miss appointments. She clearly explains the support that she needs whenever you meet with her. Li has difficulty advocating for herself in new environments or when dealing with authority e.g. government workers and departments. This has been a challenge for her during your time supporting her. You have observed that this is more difficult for her when she is unwell and can cause her to have flashbacks of traumatic events.

You have talked with Li about whether she wishes to develop her skills around self-advocacy, particularly around dealing with government departments. She has indicated that she is a bit scared about this, but might like to gain that skill. When you visit Li on this occasion, she is upset because she has received a letter from Centrelink saying that she has to attend an appointment with an employment agency. Li tells you that she has already sent Centrelink a doctor’s certificate to say that she is unable to work. Li says to you, “Can you fix this for me? Centrelink will listen to you and they will not listen to me. I don’t speak English well enough to fix this.”

Tips for responding in the moment

What you could say:

  • Talk to Li about whether she would like you to help her advocate for herself with Centrelink. It is important to respect Li’s wishes. She may feel it is too soon, and that she needs more time to gain this skill, if at all.
  • Ask Li if she would like a family member to be present when you are discussing what she wants to do. If she does, ask what role she would like them to take.

If Li decides she wants to advocate to Centrelink herself the following discussions could be used to help prepare:

  • Ask Li about what role she would like her family to play when she is both preparing to go to Centrelink and when she is there.
  • Ask Li whether she would be more comfortable using an interpreter to speak to Centrelink (be aware Li may not want someone who shares her cultural background knowing about her diagnoses). Advise Li that professional interpreters are bound by ethical guidelines and confidentiality agreements.
  • Work collaboratively with Li to prepare for her conversation with Centrelink: identify what she wants to achieve, relevant points to discuss, evidence to support her case and the words that she wants to use.
  • Talk to Li about her strengths and remind her of the skills she has that will assist her at Centrelink.
  • Help Li identify the challenges that she might face while self-advocating, such as communication, regulating emotions, or experiencing a flashback. Work with Li to develop strategies to manage them.
  • Help Li to practice what she wants to say by role-playing her conversation with Centrelink.
  • Prepare Li for the possibility that she may not get the outcome she wants. Reassure her that, if this occurs, she will have your support.
  • After Li self-advocates to Centrelink, assist her to reflect on the experience, what she learned and how she might use these skills in the future.

Tips to help prepare for next time

  • Focus on strengths and abilities.
  • Provide positive messages and possibilities in all interactions.
  • Build on and acknowledge successes.
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • Seek support and advice from your supervisor if at any time you are unsure of what to do next.


Transcultural Mental Health Centre (TMHC)
The TMHC is a NSW Health statewide service which works with health professionals and communities across NSW to support positive mental health for people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. The TMHC has a range of translated resources on mental health and wellbeing.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes
Produced by: NSW Government

Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia: Towards culturally inclusive service delivery
The Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia was developed to help services and individual workers to evaluate and enhance their cultural responsiveness. The Framework consists of a tailored set of modules and self-reflection tools, which allow organisations and individual practitioners to evaluate and enhance their cultural responsiveness. This webpage includes a range of introductory guides to the Framework, and enables users to register to enter the modules and self-reflection tools.
Type: Web page
Produced by: Mental Health in Multicultural Australia

NDIS Language interpreting services
This web page provides information on language interpreting services for participants, available in English and in 12 other languages. The page also provides information on accessing language interpreting services for providers.
Type: Web page
Produced by: NDIA

Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA)
This is the peak body for all people in NSW with disability and their families and carers, with a particular focus on those from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or non-English speaking background with disability.

ADA Australia
This website is designed for aged and disability advocates. However, it also has some useful tips about self-advocacy that can be applied more broadly, noting this will need to be adapted to different cultural contexts.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Produced by: ADA Australia

National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA)
NEDA is a national Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) that advocates federally for the human rights of people with disability and their families, from CALD and non-English speaking backgrounds.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
Produced by: National Ethnic Disability Alliance

NSW Health: Mental health organisations and advocacy groups
This web page provides information on organisations that advocate and support the needs of people with a lived experience of mental illness and their family members or carers.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
Produced by: NSW Government

Ethnic Community Services Co-operative
This web page explains what support multicultural disability services provide and includes a downloadable brochure for individuals and families, and for service providers.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Produced by: Ethnic Community Services Co-operative

What PTSD Is Really Like
In this video people share their experiences of PTSD.
Type: Video
Reading/viewing time: 3.56 minutes
Closed captions: Yes  
Produced by: BuzzFeedVideo

Current as at: Monday 20 January 2020
Contact page owner: Mental Health