Barriers and facilitators to accessing community mental health services for migrant youth

AUTHORS    Jason Brown, Charlotte Carrier, Mohamed Al-Adeimi and Rajaa Al-Abed

LOCATION   National


This study explored the perspectives of migrant youth and service providers on the barriers and facilitators to accessing mental health services for migrant youth. A total of 37 individuals participated. Migrant youth between the ages of 16 and 22 and service providers from 6 different local health or mental health organizations participated. Each was asked the same questions: 1) “What are the mental health stressors that you face?”, 2) “What are the mental health supports that you have?”, 3) “What would stop you from talking to someone about mental health stress?” and 4) “What would make it easier to talk to someone about mental health stress?”. The present study was conducted in partnership between Western University and the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre (SLNRC). The purpose of the study was to explore youths’ perspectives on the facilitators and barriers to mental health service access. This report contains the results of the literature review and a summary of the original research.

How does this research apply to my work?

Migrant youth are less likely to access to mental health services than their Canadian-born counterparts (Thomson, Chaze, George & Guruge, 2015). Their mental health needs are complicated by pre-immigration, migration and post-migration related stresses and risk factors (Robert & Gilkinson, 2012). The perspectives of migrant youth have not been well-represented in the literature on mental health problems and solutions. They are a group at risk for the development of mental health problems; they are also underserviced. Their perspectives on needed mental health supports and services are necessary. This research not only takes into account the perspectives of service providers, but also of migrant youth themselves. This is key for the development of appropriate and adequate programs and services for this population.

What should I take away from this research?

The main findings from this study indicate that:

  • Youth in the present study reported feeling pressure arising from expectations they held for themselves, influenced by peers, teachers as well as parents to fit in, be successful and help their families.
  • The youth found settlement services in the schools to be very helpful and the staff to be their main go-to for information and advice.
  • A major barrier for youth to access mental health services was the concern that they would not be taken seriously or be misunderstood because of cultural and language differences.
  • Youth reported that a facilitator who modeled self-disclosure would make them feel more comfortable disclosing their own issues.
  • Service providers identified the potential for error and over diagnosis with assumptions about the presence, nature and extent of traumatic experiences immigrant youth experience.
  • The service providers in the present study also identified Settlement Workers as essential resources for youth in schools and community to support youths’ mental health.
  • The same participants identified the challenge of regional and cultural differences that were points of conflict in their countries of origin as issues that continued to divide and cause tensions during settlement.
  • The service providers viewed the traditional family structures, with the role clarity and hierarchy they may offer, as protective for the youth. 21.
  • One difference that was noted between youth and service providers was that youth emphasized the need for trust to develop through service provider self-disclosure and the service providers did not speak to this issue.
  • Both service providers and the youth saw the youth as the experts on their own lives.

What’s the next step?

The continued support of neighborhood-based community development organizations to provide services that connect youth with other youth, local resources and other families is very important. These are sites where mental health prevention is offered and early intervention is accessed. They provide a safe place for youth and families to gather. They are locations where service providers can connect with youth to develop connections and increase trust.

Settlement Workers in the Schools are of fundamental importance to the youth and service providers interviewed. The relationships that youth and workers develop are essential. Increased training in mental health for the workers should be considered to continue to develop confidence and skill development in this area.

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