Broadening the conversation on newcomer mental health

International migration is driving Canada’s population growth. 19.8 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of immigrants, with women accounting for 52 per cent of the international migration. Locally, Hamilton has seen a 20 per cent increase in migration between 2011-2012.

Despite the growth, immigrant women encounter challenges integrating in a new country, as the McMaster University School of Social Work has identified. Gender relations, intimate partner violence, intergenerational tensions, trauma, loss and economic exclusion are some of the challenges that immigrant women face. Research also shows that immigrant women face acculturative stress as they adapt to changes in diet, climate, language and more. These challenges can affect their self-esteem, sense of identity and belonging, and their mental health.

Through the Community Health, Education and Research Fund, McMaster launched a research project to learn ways to enhance the mental health of immigrant women in Hamilton. The overall purpose of the project is to help build a healthy, caring and inclusive community and foster social and economic integration of immigrant women. By partnering with community organizations that have direct contact with immigrant women and knowledge of the local settlement sector, such as the Immigrants Working Centre, this 18-month research project also aims to strengthen campus-community partnerships and broaden ways to share outcomes gained from the research.

The project will utilize popular theatre as a way to share findings from the research. This art form is both educational and empowering, as it involves the audience as participants. Immigrant women themselves will perform the skits and this serves as an entry point to a larger conversation about the intersection of immigrant women, mental health and wellbeing.

While the project looks at mental health of immigrant women locally, McMaster hopes to use this study as a stepping stone to encourage integration of best practices in health and social services, and to inform local and municipal policy.