Eliminating Barriers to Accessing Refugee Mental Health in Canada

About the Author:

Arieyeh Timayo

My family came to Canada almost 20 years ago as refugees from South Sudan. Today I’m a full-time student at the University of Victoria. I’m entering my final year of a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration.  Through a combination of lived experiences and my educational journey I’ve realized that there exists an urgent systems problem.  I hope to be a part of the group of young people who disrupt and change those systems. You can follow me on Instagram @arieyeh.

2019 · Youth Policy Program

With research assistance from Chloe Da Mata

Refugees experience difficult migration journeys and many challenges by leaving home and adapting to a new country (Salami, Salma & Hegadoren, 2018). These stressful and, in many cases, traumatic experiences often lead to adverse mental health outcomes; especially when me with lack of adequate support and resources (Salami, Salma & Hegadoren, 2018). By focusing on resettled refugees, we do not intend to suggest that only refugees experience barriers accessing appropriate mental health care services. We recognize that while refugees are a uniquely vulnerable population, racialized Canadians, low-income populations, immigrants, Indigenous Canadians, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community also face barriers accessing supportive and appropriate mental health care services. We focus on refugee mental health because we recognize that refugees are a growing demographic in Canada who are especially vulnerable to developing poor mental health and mental illness. We believe that a truly equitable healthcare policy is one that seeks to provide all Canadians with affordable, high-quality culturally and linguistically appropriate care in a timely manner (White-Means, Gaskin & Osmani, 2019).

The stressful pre-migration and migration experiences of refugees are made worse by lack of access to appropriate mental health services upon arrival in Canada. Additionally, refugees’ experiences of isolation, discrimination, prejudice, and racism post-migration can worsen feelings of negative mental health and experiences of mental illness. While Canada continues to be a global leader in refugee resettlement, it does not have a comprehensive, equitable, and accessible mental health care policy that meets the needs of refugees. Many refugees experience long wait times for referrals, difficulty affording out-patient mainstream treatment, language barriers, cultural differences, and discrimination while trying to access the support they need. This means that despitehaving a greater risk of developing poor mental health and mental illnesses, refugees are amongst the least likely to utilize existing mental health services and programs. Canada is well-positioned to support refugee mental health through a coordinated comprehensive mental health policy. To meet the needs of refugees, Canada must invest in an institutional strategy that seeks to bridge the gaps between service providers and mental health programs. For effective policy changes to mental health services Canada must seek to effectively and meaningfully engage resettled refugees in the planning, and implementation of a policy seeking to improve their mental health. Canada has a responsibility to provide equitable and accessible mental health care services to its resettled refugee population. Developing an equitable response to address refugee mental health requires addressing systemic barriers such as language barriers, lack of culturally appropriate methods of service, and treatment. It also involves prioritizing coordination between settlement services and mental health care providers.

About the Author:

Arieyeh Timayo

My family came to Canada almost 20 years ago as refugees from South Sudan. Today I’m a full-time student at the University of Victoria. I’m entering my final year of a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration.  Through a combination of lived experiences and my educational journey I’ve realized that there exists an urgent systems problem.  I hope to be a part of the group of young people who disrupt and change those systems. You can follow me on Instagram @arieyeh.