Tools and techniques for approaching a refugee client about mental health concerns

Presenters:  Vanessa Wright, NP-PHC, MScN and Shannon McCready, MSW-RWS
Date: Wed, March 2, 2016

Download slide deck [PDF]


  • Do you have refugee clients whose mental health you're concerned about?
  • Don't know how to approach them about your concerns?
  • Unsure who to refer them to for help?

If you are a settlement, social or community service, education or other front-line worker who sees refugee clients, you may occasionally come across clients whose mental health you are concerned about. Many service providers are unsure of how or whether to talk to clients about such concerns.

Through an interactive presentation of tips and case studies, Vanessa Wright, Nurse Practitioner at The Crossroads Clinic and Shannon McCready, Outreach Social Worker at Sojourn House, will share useful strategies and considerations for approaching refugee clients about mental health concerns.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe possible approaches for initiating a conversation with refugee clients about their mental wellness
  • Know what to do if someone discloses trauma or expresses intense emotions
  • Be familiar with grounding techniques
  • Recognize warning signs of suicidal ideation
  • Understand the importance of professional boundaries and self-care
  • Know when and how to refer a client
  • List services in the community or health care system that you can refer clients to

Presenter Biographies

Vanessa Wright

Vanessa Wright is a nurse practitioner at the Women's College Hospital's Crossroads Refugee Health Clinic. She and her team provide comprehensive medical services to newly arrived refugee clients for their first two years in Toronto. She has also worked across a variety of community health centres in Toronto and provided primary health care and emergency nursing care in medically under-serviced First Nation communities in Northern Ontario. Vanessa worked as an Emergency Nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital from 2007-2012, and as a result became the  nursing lead for the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration Emergency Medicine Team, where she supports the educational partnership between Addis Ababa University and the University of Toronto, as well as emergency medicine development in Ethiopia and the concept of emergency nursing.

Her other professional experiences include working as a Field Nurse for Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan, Zambia, and India.  She also volunteers for the Health Bus at Sherbourne Health Centre, and serves as a public speaker for OXFAM and an association member for Doctors Without Borders.

Shannon McCready

Shannon has been working/volunteering with refugees and newcomers for 15 years. She has experience working with refugees and displaced people both in Canada as well as in displacement camps in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Israel. Shannon has been working with Sojourn House for 2 years as the Outreach Social Worker and previously as the Youth Social Worker.

As the Outreach Social Worker, Shannon provides outreach and therapeutic follow-up supports to ensure the successful transition and integration of refugees from the Sojourn House shelter and transitional housing program into the community.  These supports include settlement services, connecting clients with legal services, health care, mental health services, education, employment services and social supports. Shannon also supports clients by providing brief solution focused counselling and crisis counselling as needed. 

Shannon holds a Bachelor's Degree in International Development Studies from the University of Toronto at Scarborough and a Masters of Social Work specializing in Child and Family Therapy from the University of Toronto. 

Vanessa Wright