Autres nouvelles Canada unprepared to deal with refugees' mental health issues, researcher says - Ottawa Citizen

Dr. Morton Beiser, founding director of the Toronto Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement, told a conference on migrant health at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario that a significant number of refugees — between 10 and 15 per cent of adults and 20 to 50 per cent of children — suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That is a huge burden of mental health problems, and I don’t think we are sufficiently equipped yet to deal with that,” he said, as the wave of Syrian refugees begins to arrive next month.

“We really have to get our act together and develop these resources. There are effective ways of dealing with PTSD and some of the other problems that people will come with, such as depression. But it is important that we are sensitive to that and that we develop our reserves as quickly and effectively as we can.”

Beiser’s comments come a day after the federal government announced plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of December and a further 15,000 by the end of February. Federal Health Minister Jane Pilpott said the mental health of refugees is on the government’s radar.

Beiser, who has done extensive research on refugee settlement, said the issue is too big for just one level of government. “We all need to be part of it.”

Canada can learn lessons from the experience with Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s. Refugees did very well in Canada in subsequent years, and their children and grandchildren have made “legendary” contributions to Canadian society, he said.

Even in the early years after they were settled, he said, their contributions to society were beyond what many expected.

Beiser and a team surveyed a group of southeast Asian refugees who had settled in Vancouver. Within years of arriving, he said, their unemployment rate was lower than the rest of the community, meaning there is an economic advantage to resettling refugees.

But economics is not the only issue that should be considered, he said. This time around there must be more focus on refugees’ psychosocial health.

“There are a lot of parallels between that situation and now. Then, just as now, there were concerns about security. There were concerns about how they would get here and where they would go. Everybody was afraid the health system would be overwhelmed with exotic diseases, which didn’t turn out to be a big problem.”

Despite that, Beiser said, Canadians “colluded” with refugees in keeping silent about some of the traumas they had experienced and mental health issues.

“One way people have of dealing with emotional problems based on a traumatic past is silence. We have fallen into the trap in the past of colluding with people in that silence and not wanting to try to deal with the problem. Silence can be effective, but only for so long. Usually the past does catch up with people.”

Beiser is part of a program in Toronto that is treating PTSD in children based on a program designed for use in refugee camps. It is relatively easy to train people to use and is effective, he said.