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Supporting the Mental Health of Refugees to Canada

Canada’s mental health response for incoming refugees should focus on fostering people’s wellness and recognizing the tremendous resilience of refugee populations. To do this, special attention needs to be paid to the unique needs of individual refugees – their experiences of trauma, loss, separation from family and friends, their hopes and goals for the future. By drawing on a recovery approach, working across sectors to develop comprehensive, coordinated and accessible services and supports, and looking at the social determinants of health, Canada can promote wellness while decreasing the impacts of potential mental health problems.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is in a unique position to provide organizations working towards a coordinated response for incoming refugees with evidence-informed information and best practices for a coordinated mental health response. Beginning in 2008 with its Diversity Task Group, MHCC has led research and promoted mental health equity for immigrant, refugee, ethno-cultural and racialized (IRER) groups. In the spring of 2016, MHCC will be releasing the Case for Diversity, which aims to provide provinces, regions, and territories with the information they need to reduce disparities in risk factors and access to mental health services for diverse communities. The project’s finalized document will present up-to-date information on the demography of diversity in Canada; the latest research on the mental health of immigrants, refugees, racialized and ethno-cultural groups; promising practices in Canada and internationally that improve access and outcomes; and an economic analysis of the potential impact of producing more culturally capable services.

In light of Canada’s commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, the Case for Diversity research team reviewed their accumulated research to create a background document specific to refugee mental health. With this information and its capacity as a convener and collaborator, MHCC is exploring opportunities to work with stakeholders to further a national dialogue around a coordinated response.

KEY MESSAGES

  • Canada is well positioned to provide incoming Syrian refugees with support for good mental health;
  • There is a strong evidence base that can be drawn upon to guide mental health service interventions for refugees; however for many communities and practitioners, there are gaps in knowledge about what tools and resources exist; and
  • A political and institutional strategy (supported by investment) is needed to develop a linked and coordinated response.

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