Mental health and addictions services for Canadian newcomers have huge gaps to help understand and support our communities as they are increasingly becoming more culturally diverse. People who are new to this country and who are experiencing the migration or settlement and re-settlement stages are under a tremendous amount of stress. During the stages of resettlement: loss, and adaptation, and during the stages of joy and relief, post-decisional regret, stress with psychological symptoms (such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety) – newcomers may face tremendous emotional, mental, and physical problems. Those who are experiencing the fourth stage of acceptance, adjustment and reorganization – are further exposed to even more or different pressures. Immigrants and refugees who are moving along these natural stages of their transition can in fact become dangerously vulnerable to various types of mental illness, which makes these stages even more difficult, especially if they are misunderstood and unsupported.
Although positive strides are being made, mental health professionals are still lagging behind in developing their cultural competence, cultural sensitivity, and in their overall awareness of the specific needs and issues and that newcomers face. In fact, mental health professionals are only beginning to understand the poor mental health and mental disorders, specific dynamics and increased unique risks that immigrant and refugee groups face. Such little has been known within these fields that its own field of cross-cultural practice has only begun to scratch the surface of researching and increasing the way in which immigrants and refugees have been perceived, understood, and supported.
Professionals are gradually beginning to see differences in risks, issues that will increase their cultural sensitivity within various newcomers groups. For instance, refugees and those seeking asylum have a higher risk of mental health problems because of the physical, emotional, social and economic stresses that relate to the specific experiences of settlement, resettlement, and adaptation while entering a different community and starting a new life. These newcomers, also require different supports based on their possible conditions of living in regions of conflict, loss of families, friends, home, status, income. And finally, refugees will require different supports than other types of newcomers simply because they may face different types and intensities of post-traumatic stress, unemployment, poverty, social isolation, cultural misunderstanding, shock, racism, feelings of worthlessness and language difficulties.
Lastly, newcomers who are visible minorities face a different type of racism than those who are ‘less visible’. Researchers are finding that racism contributes to increased emotional problems and psychiatric symptoms particularly those related to depression. Racism, has been linked to further mistreatment, confusion, anger and often disillusionment of newcomers who are already facing different cultural and spiritual ideas to health, illness & healing.
Therefore, racism is a very real experience with very real mental health consequences in the daily lives of these immigrants. This coupled with the complex experiences of cultural perceptions and attitudes that encourage stigma, shame, and denial further discourage newcomers to receive adequate, timely and non-judgmental support and treatments.