Metro Vancouver study illuminates unaddressed mental-health pressures on young male immigrants

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      While Canada may have come to be associated with values of inclusivity and egalitarianism, a new study by UBC health researchers explores a neglected area of study: the social inequalities that young male immigrants experience, and what impact that has on their mental health. What they found from Metro Vancouver interviewees was a mix of optimism, social and financial hardships, broken dreams, and gaps in the Canadian health system.

      According to 2013 statistics, 20 percent of the Canadian population was born outside of Canada. The World Health Organization has also observed that while "the world is experiencing the largest population displacements seen since the end of the Second World War", the level of anti-migration sentiment is "unprecedented".

      Previous studies found that Canadian immigrant men are less likely to use mental-health services. Researchers also found that newcomers face challenges such as limited language abilities, fears of accessing services, difficulties in using the health system, and other problems.   

      Due to a lack of research on the mental health of young male immigrants and refugees in Canada, a UBC study, published on November 28 in the American Journal of Men's Health, broached this area, with a focus on migration and resettlement experiences.

      Researchers analyzed responses gathered from individual and group interviews with 33 young male immigrants or refugees from 18 countries who were 15 to 22 years old and living in Metro Vancouver.

      Three recurring themes emerged in the stories that the men told: searching for a better life, living the immigrant dream, and starting all over again from scratch. All were connected by an underlying theme of experiencing second-class citizenship.

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      In seeking a better life, participants referred to physical, political, economic, and social safety, or escaping stress, risk, or danger in their home countries. In their aspirations for a greater security, rights, and prosperity in Canada, these stories were marked by hope and a negative regard for their countries of origin.

      The researchers hypothesized that "it may also be that the young men deployed these portrayals in order to adhere to the expectations for newcomers and second-class citizens to perform public gratitude to Canada through speech acts".

      When participants discussed how they were "living the dream", they talked about aspects of Canadian life that had a positive impact upon their mental health, including proximity to mountains and forests, better air quality, and accessibility of public transportation.

      They also viewed Canada as an inclusive, prosperous nation that offers equal opportunities for all people. They also regarded themselves as being capable of pursuing their dreams as well as the hopes of their families.

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      Education became viewed as a crucial factor in determining their future and fulfilling the expectations of their parents or families. Thus, their emotional and mental states began to hinge upon their academic performance.

      However, for some respondents, the physical and mental pressures of multiple responsibilities, in addition to their families' financial hardships, overwhelmed their ability to cope. In addition, their sense of obligation to their families often meant that they sacrificed what they wished to explore or pursue.

      A third narrative emerged that included subtle issues of mental health: the experience of starting over in a new country.

      The young men discussed their struggles to integrate into Canadian society, including learning a new language, trying to understand Canadian culture and humour, trying to get through the Canadian education system, and facing stereotypes and discrimination ranging from Islamophobia to anti-Chinese sentiment.

      The combination of linguistic challenges and cultural confusion sometimes led to feelings of social isolation or antisocial responses, such as getting into conflicts with others.

      Participants also spoke about how their family members faced a lack of recognition of international professional credentials, challenges finding suitable employment, and financial difficulties (which often entailed the young men shouldering financial responsibilities to help support the family).

      Respondents in the study also expressed a heightened awareness of being viewed as "different" by others, in addition to an implicit pressure to become self-reliant and financially responsible rather than relying upon the government. Due to the combination of those factors, the study states that "within a context of marginalization and vulnerability, the distress of immigrant and refugee young men is disallowed."

      The researchers note that the results of this study can provide opportunities for further research, such as the impact of minority stress on mental health or the relationship between mental health and citizenship. The study also suggests that addressing the mental-health issues of immigrants and refugees can be included in efforts to devote financial and human resources for dealing with social factors that influence mental health.