The impact of immigration and settlement on immigrant women’s mental well-being

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 By Sukhdev Grewal

Social issues impact every community; however, for the immigrant communities these same social challenges can result in both life crises and health issues. Not only do these issues affect the individual but they affect the family and community too. One often hears or reads about various social ills within the South Asian community. Some examples of these issues are: violence against women, drugs and gang violence within the youth, physical health issues for adults, gender violence targeted towards unborn girls, racialism or discrimination at the workplace. One issue that has not been often highlighted is how the immigration and settlement process impacts individuals, in particular, women’s mental well-being. Could it be that there is stigma attached to this topic and no one really wants to acknowledge it?

Every time there is an incidence of violence, be it at a local level or internationally, the community at large comes together to discuss and explore ideas about possible solutions. Everyone demonstrates passion and commitment and many suggestions and possible solutions are talked about. Having community input into program planning is vital and the community should be consulted at the initial stages in order to see a program become successful. Collaboration between community members, leaders, and service providers can result in recommendations for program planners.  One may ask why we are discussing this issue and we invite you to look at some facts.

Over the last few decades immigration from countries like India has been increasing in the vast majority of Canada. Vancouver is one of the preferred choices to establish a residence for South Asian immigrants. It is home to a large numbers of Punjabis and many of these immigrants have come to Canada through family sponsorship.  The majority of the immigrant women come to this country to join their family members or as sponsored brides. More recently, we are also seeing many young women coming here for study purposes. Those coming to join their family, generally have some support network available to them while those coming for study purposes do not have many resources available. Although, there are some federally funded programs to assist immigrants with integration and settlement issues, there are not enough resources. There are more programs and resources in place for refugees than immigrants applying through the traditional immigration process.

Some newcomers to Canada do not know about the services available to them or are not able to access existing funded programs for a number of reasons. In particular, many new immigrant South Asian women do not have appropriate means of access to vital and crucial services such as social or psychological support, employment assistance, and health promotion services. There are many barriers to women accessing these services such as language, lack of awareness, unfamiliarity with the health care system, lack of transportation, and cultural barriers. As a result, many of these women suffer in silence. They are isolated, and lack the social support system they had enjoyed in the country of their origin. Not only are these women trying to cope with a new life as many are coming as sponsored brides, they are also adapting to a new culture and incorporating unfamiliar and strange cultural behaviours of the host county. Some researchers have labelled this as an acculturative stress.

While studies have been conducted on the impact of immigration on an individual’s physical health, there is still a lack of research on the impact of immigration and settlement on South Asian women’s psychological health. Although some research has been done on South Asian women in relation to breast cancer, prenatal health etc., there is a paucity of research on examining the impact of immigration process on South Asian Immigrant women’s psychological well-being. Locally, we have observational and anecdotal data which indicates that many of these women are suffering but not seeking help. A study

done in Atlantic Canada in 2009 by Edith Samuel found that mental health issues such as depression were common amongst the South Asian immigrant women. The researchers spoke with 14 Hindu women living in Eastern Canada and found that these women were at risk for depression amongst other concerns. Another study done in the USA on South Asian (Bangladeshi) women also found that 36.5% were at high risk for depression.

Regardless of the cause of this issue, the solution is clear. Someone needs to address this topic and help these women. We the South Asian Community must unite together to first look at the root cause of these difficulties and then look at ways that we can assist. The community can be strengthened via an interactive discussion on issues that exist and matter to all of us.

Taking the above into consideration, the South Asian Family Association (SAFA) members have taken steps to explore this issue. SAFA wants to involve YOU in this very important and first of many discussions about topics that concern of YOUR wellbeing. Through this very informative gathering, we hope to address the IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION AND SETTLEMENT ON IMMIGRANT WOMEN’S MENTAL WELL-BEING. Please join us in learning more about this topic and creating awareness, thus finding interventions and support for those in need. There will be snacks and beverages provided.

June 26th, 2014, 6:30pm-8:30pm

Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre

7647 Prince Albert Street Vancouver, BC, V5X 3Z4 www.safa.ca