Actions needed to promote health equity and the mental health of Canada’s black refugees

AUTHORS    Régine Uwibereyeho King, David Clarence Este, Sophie Yohani, Patrina Duhaney, Christine McFarlene and Jackie Ka Kei Liu

LOCATION   National


The overall goal was to synthesize knowledge on actions that need to be taken to promote health equity and the mental health of Black refugees in Canada. Group concept mapping systems were applied to generate and organize action-oriented statements related to the different social determinants of health. A total of 174 participants from the cities of Calgary and Edmonton with experience working with Black Canadians participated in four focus groups. A 10-cluster map was generated – ranking ‘addressing the criminalization of Black Canadians and promoting appropriate and culturally relevant mental health services at the most important in promoting health equity and the mental health of Black Canadians.

How does this research apply to my work?

The mental health field – including psychiatric institutions, theorizations of mental illness, diagnoses and associated labels, and service delivery approaches – are all to be held in tension with the pervasive impacts of anti-Black racism.

While all Black immigrants to Western countries are confronted by these historical structures and practices, Black refugees are doubly affected because of their exposure to pre- and during-migration traumatic events as well as the additional challenges they face in the host countries.

The persistent and pervasive anti-Black racism in Western countries is recognized as a form of trauma and an important social determinant of mental health. However, many of the existing therapeutic approaches tend to pathologize and individualize the mental health problems of Black people, particularly Black refugees.

Overlooking anti-Black racism as a major social determinant of mental health corresponds with a continued lack of culturally appropriate interventions for Black Canadians, which limits their access to and utilization of existing services. Dominant medical approaches and psychotherapies have often failed to link racism to the presenting mental health issues and other social determinants of mental health.

What should I take away from this research?

This study demonstrates a discrepancy between actions that are needed to promote the positive mental health of Canada's Black population and their lack in current services. This result confirms prior studies that associate health inequities of Black people in North America to social determinants of health – particularly to racial discrimination and cultural factors. Furthermore, there has been recognition of limited interventions designed to address such issues.

What’s the next step?

Addressing the criminalization of Black Canadians through a range of rehumanizing interventions at institutional levels will provide a platform from which they can participate and engage others in developing appropriate and culturally relevant mental health services.

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