Beyond Displacement: Understanding the Intersection of Cultural Variables on Mental Health Service Utilization among Newcomers
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Existing literature regarding mental health and mental health service access reveals disparities between the experiences of newcomers and their native-born counterparts. Previous studies have mainly focused on how the immigration process and displacement from one’s country of origin influence mental health. Comparatively, few researchers have explored the association between these contributing factors and culture in how immigrants and refugees understand their mental health and approach available services. The goal of this study was to understand newcomers’ perspectives on mental health service access and utilization in order to ultimately meet their mental health needs using a phenomenological approach to inquiry. Interviews and a focus group were conducted with 10 newcomers and 5 support staff at a newcomer community organization in the Greater Toronto Area. A thematic analysis of the narratives was used to identify themes among the data. Findings from interviews with newcomers revealed the following themes: (1) perceptions of mental health challenges are influenced by internal and external pressures, (2) cultural beliefs influence if and when newcomers seek medical intervention, and (3) expectations and experiences of accessing services within the Canadian healthcare system. Additionally, findings from the support staff focus group revealed the following themes: (1) the influence of undocumented status and financial difficulties on newcomers’ mental health challenges, (2) tension between newcomers’ openness with mental health challenges and stigmatization from others in their cultural communities, and (3) barriers and facilitators associated with help-seeking and mental health service utilization. The dissemination of these findings for restructuring current mental health services and providing efficient and effective support for this vulnerable population is discussed.