Canada has a long tradition of opening its doors to people from all over the world. Since the second world war, significant demographic changes have occurred in this country. Since the 1970’s, the Canadian immigrant population has shifted from mainly European immigration to people from Asia and Africa. The immigrants and refugees arriving in Canada face many barriers to an easy adjustment to Canadian society. The challenge of learning a new language and socio-economic and legal issues make the task of starting a new life in Canada a daunting one. As our population becomes more diverse, the services we provide have to be relevant and accessible to all the people in our community. In addition, as the population changes, the ways in which we provide services must also change. For instance, in order to provide good mental health services, the services need to become culturally sensitive and appropriate.
The Canadian Task force on Mental Health Issues Affecting Immigrants and Refugees (1988) concluded that migration in itself does not increase the incidence of mental health problems. When accompanied by one of the following seven conditions, however, it becomes a risk factor for psychiatric illness. These conditions include: a drop in socio-economic status following migration; inability to speak the language of the host country; separation from family; lack of friendly reception by the host population; lack of ethnocultural community to provide support; a traumatic experience prior to migration; and family, migrating during adolescence or after the age of 65. Multicultural Access within a National Organization (1993) provided CMHA with an overview of the situation across the country vis-a-vis cross-cultural mental health. The report indicated that CMHA, at every level of the organization, has much work to do in order to truly represent mentally ill people in Canada. The work involves a better representation of cultural communities on the Boards, staff and volunteers; and CMHA needs to involve the different cultural communities in determining its goals and objectives.
- Settlement services in Canada should become an integrated service. There needs to be coordination between the provincial and federal governments to provide a continuum of settlement services. Services and information should be provided pre-immigration and post-immigration to facilitate the acculturation process.
- All immigrants and refugees should have equal access to official language education, regardless of whether or not they intend to enter the workplace.
- Cross-cultural training must be included in the core curriculum of secondary and post-secondary education institutions. There needs to be action especially in, medicine, nursing, social work, psychology, and psychiatry.
- All levels of governments, corporations, and agencies should work towards zero tolerance of racism and racist activity. Public education should be carried out regarding racism and its affects on the people. Recommendations For The Canadian Mental Health Association
- CMHA, at all levels, shall ensure that their programs are culturally sensitive and accessible to all people in Canada.
- CMHA, at all levels, shall increase the knowledge and skills of staff to provide culturally appropriate services.
- CMHA, at all levels, needs to actively recruit consumers, family members and others who reflect the diversity of the Canadian population to Boards, staff and volunteers.
- CMHA, at all levels, shall examine its policies and procedures with a view to eradicating systemic racism.