Work explores mental health among immigrants

Paul Mayne//Western News

Western PhD student (epidemiology and biostatistics) Jordan Edwards has received a Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario Division) grant to analyze the relationships between mood and anxiety disorders and immigrant populations in Canada.

With 1-in-5 Canadians born outside the country, one Western PhD student’s exploration of mental health among immigrant populations looks to build better resiliency among landed individuals and, in turn, a stronger country.

“There is a grace period after an immigrant arrives – a ‘health immigrant effect,’ as it is called,” explained Epidemiology and Biostatistics student Jordan Edwards. “They are excited to be in a new country, but they don’t yet know the pitfalls and challenges ahead. They don’t know how challenging it can be to get the care they need.”

Those challenges often manifest themselves in the form of mood and anxiety disorders.

Edwards explores these disorders among three immigrant classes – economic migrants, family reunification migrants and refugees – and how factors such as marginalization, material deprivation and class influence them. He hopes to assess whether the prevalence of self-reported mood and anxiety disorders are consistent with diagnosed rates in immigrant populations in Ontario.

For his efforts, Edwards recently received a $5,000 research fellowship grant from the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario Division) to advance front-line mental-health services in the province.

“We’re talking about populations who have had different experiences throughout their lives,” Edwards said of Canada’s foreign-born population of almost seven million people. “It’s a growing population who are contributing unbelievably to this country. Some of their experiences lead to vulnerabilities, so having the mental-health supports to allow these populations to meet their potential is paramount.

“We’re talking about the relationships some of those migratory experiences have in relation to their mental health. You have to look at this holistically – their experiences prior to migration, during migrations and after,” continued Edwards, whose work focused on these populations after they arrived in Canada.

“We’re talking about their life in Canada.”

There are some distinct differences between the pathways that have been taken to get to Canada between these groups, said Edwards, in hoping to determine mental-health differences in those classes, in relation to common mental disorders in Canada.

“We can look at their class, when they came, their age at arrival, where they came from, time period, when they came,” said Edwards, who has data on landed immigrants back to 1985. “We can look at a whole trajectory of time and map out whether those estimates increase or decrease when compared to the general population. We think there might be some distinct differences between refugees and economic migrants that just hasn’t been shown, so there may be more to the story.”

The connection between immigration and health is multifaceted. Research suggests 15-18 per cent of all refugees who come to Canada require mental-health clinical intervention to help them address trauma. Helping to identify the high-risk groups can be used by policy and decision makers to improve mental-health services in allocating resources for Canadian immigrant and refugee populations.

“We need accurate population estimates and are hoping to move the bar forward in this area,” Edwards said. “If we identify the high-risk groups, it’s moving the understanding and discussion of common mental disorders among migrants, as well as the general Canadian population, in the right direction.”

Epidemiology and Biostatistics PhD candidate Klajdi Puka also received a research fellowship grant from the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario Division). His work has called on doctors to consider a “family diagnosis” when it comes to treating children with epilepsy, as recent research has uncovered the potential for long-term mental-health challenges impacting the mothers of diagnosed children.