Chapter 3: Migration-Related Trauma and Refugee Mental Health in the Canadian Resettlement Sector
Do you know how many Canadians were born outside Canada?
Do you know what kind of challenges there are in starting your life over again in a new country, whether you are nine years old or ninety?
Canada’s population has become increasingly foreign-born. According to the 2016 census, 21.6% of Canada’s 35.2 million people were born outside the country. That meant 7.6 million Canadians came to Canada as immigrants. So, the success and well-being of those people who immigrated to Canada accounts for the success and well-being of one-fifth of all Canadians and all the other people who are impacted by that success.
The challenges associated with moving your life permanently to another country can include managing in a completely new language, having to reinvent yourself to gain employment, needing to create completely new social networks, and trying to understand how to do everyday tasks in an entirely different cultural context. At the very least, tackling these challenges requires a lot of effort and energy. In cases where people are forced to leave their home countries because of violent conflict and persecution, the challenge to start over is even greater due to the added stress of loss and migration-related traumatic experiences.
Canada is one of many countries that commit to resettling people who are forced to leave their homes because of conflict and persecution. People who are resettled are legally recognized as refugees under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Canada’s Immigration Refugee and Protection Act (IRPA). Resettled refugees are included in the 7.6 million Canadians born outside Canada. Sheath et al. (2020) explain that
“[t]he mental health of refugees is not only important for refugees themselves, but also important for the mental health of host societies, overall social health in the host countries, and the human and financial resources of those host countries” (p. 8).
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to recognize common migration experiences often associated with migration-related trauma and the resources that create resilience for migrants. You should be able to identify and compare the social determinants of health and the challenges newcomers face in accessing mental health services in Canada. You will also learn about some good practices in refugee and newcomer mental health services that are occurring in Canada.
Before you begin working through this chapter, it may be useful to write down a few details about your current knowledge and expectations about what you will learn. There will be another self-reflection activity at the end of the chapter that you can compare with what you write in this activity. Feel free to answer directly or use the following questions as a guide for reflection:
- When you read the word “trauma,” what do you understand it to mean?
- Do you think that a person can recover from a traumatic experience?
- What resources do you think a person needs to help them cope with a traumatic experience?
- When you read the term “resilient,” what do you understand it to mean?
- When you read the term “mental health’,” what do you understand it to mean?
- What do you hope to do with the knowledge from this chapter?
- Whose “job” is it to help new immigrants to Canada?