There is a long history of interest in transcultural mental health in Victoria, dating from the 1960s with the work of Jerzy Krupinski and his group at the Mental Health Research Institute on the mental health of immigrants, and followed in the 1970s by Ivor Jones and others investigating the mental health of Aboriginal communities. In 1983 Harry Minas published in the Medical Journal of Australia the results of a study examining the relative rates of use of ECT in the treatment of Australian-born and immigrant patients. A number of such studies demonstrated that there was considerable variation in the prevalence of mental disorders in different immigrant groups, and that there were substantial problems in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in patients of immigrant background.
The VTPU was established in 1989 within the Office of Psychiatric Services, State Government of Victoria. Its mission is to facilitate the improvement of mental health services for members of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. It is a statewide service which evolved from a small clinical service to a service which supports area mental health services and psychiatric disability support services in working with CALD communities throughout Victoria. In 1996 it was awarded Commonwealth funding to establish the Australian Transcultural Mental Health Network. Currently the VTPU is funded through a service agreement with the Mental Health Branch in the Department of Human Services, State Government of Victoria.