A scoping review of mental health issues and concerns among immigrant and refugee youth in Canada: Looking back, moving forward

Sepali Guruge, Hissan Butt


BACKGROUND: Youth comprise a significant portion of the total immigrant population in Canada. Immigrant and refugee youth often have different migration trajectories and experiences, which can result in different mental health outcomes. Research is emerging in this area, but study findings have not yet been consolidated.

RESEARCH QUESTION: What is known from the existing literature about mental health issues and concerns among immigrant and refugee youth in Canada?

METHOD: We searched Embase, Health Star, Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Social Science Abstracts databases for the period 1990–2013 for Canadian studies related to the mental health of youth born outside Canada. Seventeen studies met inclusion criteria.

RESULTS: Determinants of mental illness included pre-migration experiences, number of years since immigration to Canada, post-migration family and school environment, in- and out-group problems, discrimination, and lack of equitable access to health care. Only a few common categories of mental illness were identified, and the burden of mental illness was shared differently across gender and immigration status, with female youth experiencing more mental health problems than male youth. Some studies identified fewer emotional and behavioural problems among refugee youth; others reported higher rates of psychopathology among refugee youth compared with their Canadian-born provincial counterparts. Pre-migration experiences and the kinds of trauma experienced were important for refugee youth’s mental health. Findings also indicated the importance of family involvement, school settings as points of care and services, and in terms of timing, focusing on the first year of arrival in Canada.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Professionals must work across health, social, and settlement sectors to address the various pre- and post-migration determinants of mental health and illness, and provide more timely and effective services based on how and when these determinants affect different groups of youth.


Canada; immigrant youth; mental health; mental illness; refugee youth; scoping review

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/cjph.106.4588