Research and Policy Briefs Series: Refugee Mental Health Practice in Rural Communities: Understanding Cross-Cultural Differences

Author: Lavan Kandiah, University of Guelph
Lavan Kandiah is a M.Sc. candidate in Capacity Development and Extension (International
Development) at the University of Guelph. His research interests lie in international geopolitics,political and power dynamics of armed conflict, and their influence on conflict resolution.
Current Canadian data on Syrian refugee resettlement indicates that while Canada’s major metropolitan areas are hosting the majority of arrivals, smaller and rural communities are also taking in large numbers (Government of Canada, 2017). The availability of settlement services,including mental health treatment and specialized services, is substantially lower in rural areas than in Canada’s larger urban centers (Ashton, Pettigrew, & Galatsanou, 2016; Canadian Mental Health Association, 2009).
Increased migration to rural Canadian communities has already strained existing social services in these areas while the lack of culturally-tailored services has also been highlighted as an issue. This brief seeks to address this service deficiency. Refugees arriving in rural and urban Canada often come from regions of the world that differ from Canadian society with regard to values, customs and priorities. These disparities canbe explained in terms of cross-cultural differences and the variations in belief systems and knowledge interpretation that exist across cultures, populations and individuals.
Scholarship on the topic of mental health practice has indicated that there often exists a disparity between the mental health needs of refugee populations arriving in a host country and the ability of mental health practitioners to meet these needs. These disparities and their implications are examined below. It is hoped that this overview will provide rural mental health practitioners with insights on how their treatment frameworks can be developed to improve treatment receptiveness among refugee populations.
The concepts discussed below are not exclusive to refugees in rural communities; however, given the settlement service deficiencies in rural Canadian communities, mental health practitioners in these communities can benefit from learning of these dimensions and adjusting their approaches.
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