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Webinar Recap - Promoting Positive Mental Health for Immigrants and Refugees

On March 6th, approximately 35 health professionals from across Ontario joined the CAMH resource centre and HC Link for a webinar called "Promoting Positive Mental Health for Refugees and Immigrants". Participants came from a diverse range of organizations and agencies and included educators, policy makers, settlement workers, public health professionals and resource coordinators to name a few. Joanne Brown from HC Link introduced the presenters, Angela Martella, Community Engagement and System Planner at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Marianne Kobus-Matthews, Senior Health Promotion Consultant, also from CAMH. Together, Angela and Marianne provided a review of key concepts related to mental health promotion; outlined mental health promotion best practices related to immigrants and refugees; described some exemplary programs working to promote refugee and immigrant mental health and lastly, introduced two resources to apply mental health promotion principles into practice.

These resources included the recently launched Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Refugees and the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Immigrants (to be launched this spring). These guides are two new additions to an online series that present health and social service providers with evidence-based approaches to mental health promotion with various populations. The guides outline best practices and provide practical tools to assist service providers in integrating evidence-based approaches to mental health promotion in their work with immigrants and refugees. Each guide includes 13 best practice guidelines, outcome and process indicators, as well as a worksheet and a sample to help plan and implement mental health promotion initiatives with refugees and immigrants.

During the webinar, participants were asked to identify what the term "mental health" meant to them. Using the chat box function, participants entered words and phrases like "well-being", "trying to find a balance in life", "flourishing, living to one's full potential", "able to cope with stress", while another participant wrote: "mental health to me means fluidity, balance, connectedness, peace". This is well-aligned with Health Canada's definition of mental health as:

"... the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity."   Health Canada, 1997

Building on the importance of culture, equity, and social justice in defining mental health, Angela and Marianne discussed the impact of risk and protective factors on refugee and immigrant mental health, that is, characteristics that are associated with an individual or community that will make it more likely to either develop a problem or will reduce the likelihood that a problem will develop. Participants were asked to identify risk factors (including determinants of health) that contribute to poor mental health for refugees and immigrants and contributed the following: social isolation, language barriers, immigration status, being separated from one's family, discrimination and racism, experiences of war/torture/trauma, parenting in two cultures, and factors such as employment, housing, and access to health services.

Some of the protective factors for refugee and immigrant mental health that were identified by webinar participants included: social and community supports, culture, leaving traumatic environments, having a sense of identity, belonging to a faith community, social structures that accommodate diverse individuals, having knowledge of the system, settlement services, opportunity for civil engagement, and supportive policies. As both the participants and the webinar facilitators illustrated during the webinar, risk and protective factors for the mental health and well-being of refugees and immigrants are experienced and can be impacted at an individual, community and societal level and action needs to occur at multiple levels, using multiple strategies that are culturally appropriate.

Thank you to all participants for a dynamic webinar. For more information and to download a copy of the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Refugees, please visit CAMH's Knowledge Exchange Portal:
http://knowledgex.camh.net/policy_health/mhpromotion/Pages/BPGuidelinesrefugee.aspx.

Please stay tuned to HC Link for more information on the upcoming launch of the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Immigrants.

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