UBC Theses and Dissertations
The impact of gender and ethnicity on the use of mental health services : a case study of twenty immigrant and refugee women Johnson, M. Audrey
The voices and experiences of immigrant and refugee women in Canada have been conspicuously absent from policy issues, programme planning, and mental health literature. However, more immigrant and refugee women than men, from traditional cultures, are considered to have mental health needs, because of risk factors such as stress at the time of migration, and because of Canadian policies and programmes which disadvantage them. This study explores from the consumers perspective the reasons for disparate mental health service utilization between South Asian and Latin American women in Vancouver. Using a cross-sectional, exploratory, case study approach, and a feminist perspective, ten South Asian and ten Latin American women who have used mental health services were interviewed in depth. Sixty percent of the participants were survivors of violence and torture. Five Latin American women were survivors of pre-migration catastrophic stress. Their mental health needs were characterised by traumatic experiences, grieving and depression. Except for the three who were married, they had no traditional support networks. In contrast with the South Asian group they appeared to have less shame and covert behaviour. Mental illness, considered a ‘house secret’, carries great stigma in the South Asian community, and has serious ramifications for the immediate as well as the extended family. Among South Asian participants seven had been subjected to wife battering, and four of their spouses had a substance abuse problem. Their mental health needs were also triggered by traumatic experiences, grieving and depression. The more established South Asian women had extended family living in Vancouver, yet social support was still lacking. Having ‘no one to turn to’ was a pervasive theme across both groups of women; their experiences characterised by loss. Analysis of data exploring the decision to use services illustrates stages in a process of recovery from experienced violence. Post migration domestic violence and pre-migration violence have devastating, life-shattering consequences which require culturally sensitive interventions by social workers and other health care professionals. An obligatory stage in the clinical intervention process is to explore the issue of violence. Finally, policy decisions which impact upon women from ethnocultural communities in Canada must embrace a philosophy which considers well-trained, culturally-sensitive, linguistically—competent workers a priority.