Let’s Talk about the mental health of young immigrant and refugee men

February 2, 2018

By The Conversation |

In the past few years the world has seen the largest displacements of people since the end of the Second World War. And, according to the World Health Organization, “the scale of anti-migrant sentiment is equally unprecedented.” In Canada, around one in five people were born outside of the country.

How do these experiences of immigration, and of anti-migrant sentiment, impact upon mental health?

This question motivates my research as a PhD candidate in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia, where my work has focused on mental health from the perspectives of immigrant and refugee young men in Greater Vancouver.

During my research I interviewed 33 young men (aged from 15 to 22 years) — from various countries and with different immigration backgrounds — about their everyday experiences in relation to their mental health.

My PhD committee and I analysed interview data for narratives that described the experiences of the participants. Three main narratives emerged, those of: Searching for a better life, the pressure of living the immigrant dream and starting again, from way below.

The interviews also revealed experiences of discrimination and of “glass ceilings” in work and career opportunities. One participant attributed some of his frustration to the notion of being a “perpetual foreigner,” which has been linked to lower sense of belonging, lower life satisfaction and greater depression for some groups.

Safety, security, opportunity

The first theme that emerged — of searching for a better life — was linked to safety, security and opportunity. Despite experiences of loss and trauma, particularly for those who were refugees, the participants described a strong sense of hope. For many, the hope for a better life was an impetus for migration.

Canada was often portrayed as “a better country overall” compared to countries from where some of the young men moved. Opportunity was described in terms of employment and freedom to travel. As 19-year old Luke explained, “being on a South African passport, travelling is impossible. [Becoming a Canadian citizen] is really kind of my ticket out of all of that.”

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