Perspectives of service agencies on factors influencing immigrants’ mental health in Alberta, Canada

AUTHORS    Dominic A. Alaazi, Salima Meherali, Esperanza Diaz, Kathleen Hegadoren, Neelam Punjani, Bukola Salami

LOCATION   Alberta


Newcomers to Canada experience resettlement challenges that affect their mental well-being. Guided by an intersectionality theoretical framework, we sought the perspectives of immigrant service agencies on factors influencing immigrants’ mental health in Alberta, Canada. Data were collected by means of qualitative interviews and focus groups with immigrant service providers. Our data analysis identified seven themes – precarious immigration status, employment discrimination, social isolation, socioeconomic pressures, sociocultural stress, gender and age-related vulnerabilities, and lack of appropriate mental health supports – reflecting the major intersecting determinants of immigrants’ mental health. We propose policy interventions for addressing the mental health vulnerabilities of immigrants.

How does this research apply to my work?

This article integrates the perspectives of service providers perspectives on the determinants of mental health for immigrants and refugees. The key findings - including precarious immigration status, employment discrimination, social isolation, socioeconomic pressures, sociocultural stress, gender and age-related vulnerabilities, and lack of appropriate mental health supports – are important to consider during service provision.

What should I take away from this research?

Despite the widespread nature of these mental health risks, Canada’s mental health support system appears to be culturally unprepared to accommodate the mental health needs of most immigrants. The overall impact of these intersecting influences has been the erosion of the ‘healthy immigrant effect’ after a period of stay in Canada (Islam, 2013; Vang et al., 2015). The authors believe that the interaction of these determinants contributes to mental health degradation for immigrants in Alberta.

What’s the next step?

The findings support earlier suggestions to redirect discursive explanations of immigrants’ health to focus more on structural-level influences. In this regard, the authors recommend the adoption of a social determinants of health framework for addressing the mental health vulnerabilities of immigrants. Such an approach might include adopting policy interventions, institutional practices, and support systems that address precarious immigration status, poverty, unemployment, service inaccessibility, and sociocultural stress among immigrants.

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Special feature Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20th, 2021

"Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people -- sometimes in the most brutal ways possible -- it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice." - Transgender Day of Remembrance founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Under the threat of victimisation, discrimination and social exclusion, many LGBT individuals are forced to flee their countries of origin in search of protection.

As a result of prolonged exposure to violence and abuse in the pre-migration context, LGBT refugees may suffer from mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex trauma syndromes, anxiety and depression (Alessi, Kahn, and Chatterji 2016; Shidlo and Ahola 2013). The resettlement process may present unique challenges as LGBT individuals may lack protective factors that promote mental health and welling.

Many transgender immigrants and refugees report having left their countries of origin to escape transphobia, access health services, and find a connection to the trans community. However, in designated safe countries such as Canada, the broader trans and non-binary communities face discrimination, violent victimization, high rates of mental illness, and challenges in accessing health care, among other inequities. Click here to read more about health and well-being among trans and non-binary immigrants and refugees in Canada.

Updates from the field

The crisis in Afghanistan: Teaching to the conflict

The University of Toronto, Institute of Islamic Studies will feature a series of Afghanistan teach-ins on the culture, history, and politics of the region. Each teach-in will be a pre-recorded lecture of approximately 20 minutes, and will feature academics, professionals, and leaders from various sectors speaking to issues that intersect with the current crisis in Afghanistan.

Link: https://islamicstudies.artsci.utoronto.ca/the-crisis-in-afghanistan-teaching-to-the-conflict/

Project updates Course

Registration for the fall offering is now closed. Add your name to the email list to be notified when registration opens for the next course!

The Immigrant and Refugee Mental Health Project’s online course is a free, self-directed training that will offer a comprehensive overview of immigrant and refugee mental health, focusing on subgroups at risks. It will provide in-depth discussion on how context and culture influence mental health and mental illness, as well as providing sample tools and resources for use in various practice settings and offering evidence-based strategies and interventions to help you provide better services and supports to different immigrant and refugee populations. You will find practical examples of promising and innovative practices effective in improving outcomes for different groups of immigrants and refugees.

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Survivors of Daesh genocide: The physical and mental health conditions of resettled Yazidi refugees and implications for best practice, November 23rd at 1:00-2:00pm EST, with Nour Hassan, BHSc (Hons).

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/physical-and-mental-health-of-yazidi-refugees-and-implications-for-practice-registration-180297473597

Toolkit of resources

Building capacity to support the mental health of immigrants and refugees: A toolkit for settlement, social and health service providers

Access the toolkit here:: https://irmhp-psmir.camhx.ca/toolkit

The toolkit is designed to provide a snapshot of essential information, tools, resources and examples of promising practices that can be integrated into the daily work of settlement, social, and health service providers across Canada, with the aim of building the capacity to better support the mental health unique needs of immigrants and refugees.

The toolkit provides a repository of evidence-based research; information on key models of care and frameworks; and an outline of components that are pertinent to service delivery.

Read through this toolkit at your own pace and use it as a reference point when needed. It is a downloadable document that you can print for easy-use or you can navigate it online and visit external links for additional information. We encourage that you share and discuss it with other service providers in your organization and with partners in the community to foster collaboration. It can be used as complementary to other Immigrant and Refugee Mental Health Project learning initiatives as well.

Access the toolkit here: https://irmhp-psmir.camhx.ca/toolkit

Community of practice

Join the Community of Practice to establish connections and partnerships, to discuss questions about service provision and to learn from others, to exchange essential resources and information about events in their communities, and to pose questions to a panel of subject matter experts.

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