Skip to main content

African Immigrant Parents’ Perspectives on the Factors Influencing Their Children’s Mental Health

Abstract

African immigrant children experience some of the poorest mental health outcomes in Canada, yet limited research has systematically mental health determinants among this growing demographic. Our participatory action research project (PAR) explored, from the perspectives of parents, the factors influencing the mental health of African immigrant children in Alberta, Canada. The project utilized an intersectionality theoretical lens to collect and analyze data from a sample of 81 African immigrant parents who participated in nine conversation cafés and five focus groups. This PAR approach provided an ideal structure to engage parents and generate knowledge on the factors influencing their children’s mental health. Parents identified racial discrimination, limited mental health awareness, limited access to mental health supports, changing family dynamics, parental absenteeism, and unresolved pre-migration trauma as factors influencing their children’s mental health. These factors were perceived as contributing to children’s experiences of material deprivation, social problems, and emotional difficulties. Our findings suggest that interventions to overcome these factors and enhance the mental health of African immigrant children must target transformation of the family, community, and cultural systems within which their lives are embedded, as well as the policies and institutions that produce and reproduce child mental health vulnerabilities.

Highlights

  • Racism was perceived as causing employment difficulties, material deprivation, low educational attainment, and emotional difficulties in children.

  • Changing family dynamics (e.g., marital divorce) resulting from resettlement pressures were perceived as a source of mental stress.

  • Unresolved pre-migration traumas were reported as a risk factor for mood swings, interpersonal difficulties, and illicit drug use.

  • Utilization of mental health supports was curtailed by stigma and limited mental health awareness.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Abdillahi and Shaw (2020) identified that although “64.0% of young Black women aged 12-17 reported their mental health to be ‘excellent or very good,’” they were still significantly disadvantaged when compared to “the 77.2% of young White women who reported excellent or very good mental health” (Government of Canada, 2020, p. 8).

References

  1. Abada, T., Hou, F., & Ram, B. (2008). The effects of harassment and victimization on self-rated health and mental health among Canadian adolescents. Social Science & Medicine, 67(4), 557–567.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Abdillahi, I., & Shaw, A. (2020). Social determinants and inequities in health for Black Canadians: a snapshot. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/health-promotion/population-health/what-determines-health/social-determinants-inequities-black-canadians-snapshot/health-inequities-black-canadians.pdf.

  3. Anderson, K. K., Cheng, J., Susser, E., McKenzie, K. J. & & Kurdyak, P. (2015). Incidence of psychotic disorders among first-generation immigrants and refugees in Ontario. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 187(9), E279–E286.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Baak, M. (2019). Racism and Othering for South Sudanese heritage students in Australian schools: Is inclusion possible? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23(2), 125–141.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Banks, K. H., & Kohn-Wood, L. P. (2002). Gender, ethnicity and depression: Intersectionality in mental health research with African American women. African American Research Perspectives, 174-180.

  6. Bayram Özdemir, S., Özdemir, M., & Stattin, H. (2016). What makes youth harass their immigrant peers? Understanding the risk factors. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(5), 601–624.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bean, T., Derluyn, I., Eurelings-Bontekoe, E., Broekaert, E., & Spinhoven, P. (2007). Comparing psychological distress, traumatic stress reactions, and experiences of unaccompanied refugee minors with experiences of adolescents accompanied by parents. The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 195(4), 288–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Beiser, M. (2010). The mental health of immigrant and refugee children in Canada: a description and selected findings from the new Canadian children and youth study (NCCYS). Canadian Issues, 103.

  9. Beiser, M., & Hou, F. (2016). Mental health effects of premigration trauma and postmigration discrimination on refugee youth in Canada. The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 204(6), 464–470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Beiser, M., Hou, F., Hyman, I., & Tousignant, M. (2002). Poverty, family process, and the mental health of immigrant children in Canada. American Journal of Public Health, 92(2), 220–227.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Bronstein, I., & Montgomery, P. (2011). Psychological distress in refugee children: a systematic review. Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review, 14(1), 44–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Browne, D. T., Kumar, A., Puente-Duran, S., Georgiades, K., Leckie, G., & Jenkins, J. (2017). Emotional problems among recent immigrants and parenting status: findings from a national longitudinal study of immigrants in Canada. PLoS ONE, 12(4), e0175023 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175023.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. Chang, C. D. (2019). Social determinants of health and health disparities among immigrants and their children. Current Problems in Pediatric & Adolescent Health Care, 49(1), 23–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Chaze, F., Thomson, M. S., George, U., & Guruge, S. (2015). Role of cultural beliefs, religion, and spirituality in mental health and/or service utilization among immigrants in Canada: a scoping review. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 34(3), 87–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Creese, G., & Wiebe, B. (2012). ‘Survival employment’: gender and deskilling among African immigrants in Canada. International Migration, 50(5), 56–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167.

  18. Cristancho, S., Garces, D. M., Peters, K. E., & Mueller, B. C. (2008). Listening to rural Hispanic immigrants in the Midwest: a community-based participatory assessment of major barriers to health care access and use. Qualitative Health Research, 18(5), 633–646.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Culhane-Pera, K. A., Allen, M., Pergament, S. L., Call, K., Adawe, A., de la Torre, R., & Yang, T. T. (2010). Improving health through community-based participatory action research: giving immigrants and refugees a voice. Minnesota Medicine, 93(4), 54.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. Danso, R. K., & Grant, M. R. (2000). Access to housing as an adaptive strategy for immigrant groups: Africans in Calgary. Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, 32(3), 19.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Davison, K. M., & Gondara, L. (2021). A comparison of mental health, food insecurity, and diet quality indicators between foreign-born immigrants of Canada and native-born Canadians. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 16(1), 109–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Durbin, A., Moineddin, R., Lin, E., Steele, L. S., & Glazier, R. H. (2015). Mental health service use by recent immigrants from different world regions and by non-immigrants in Ontario, Canada: a cross-sectional study. BMC Health Services Research, 15(1), 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Elamoshy, R., & Feng, C. (2018). Suicidal ideation and healthy immigrant effect in the Canadian population: a cross-sectional population based study. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, 15(5), 848.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. El-Assal, K. (2021). Will Canada remain appealing to immigrants after the pandemic? https://www.cicnews.com/2021/04/will-canada-remain-appealing-to-immigrants-after-the-pandemic-0417728.html#gs.27btom.

  25. Ellis, B. H., MacDonald, H. Z., Lincoln, A. K., & Cabral, H. J. (2008). Mental health of Somali adolescent refugees: the role of trauma, stress, and perceived discrimination. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 76(2), 184–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Farid, D., Li, P., Da Costa, D., Afif, W., Szabo, J., Dasgupta, K., & Rahme, E. (2020). Undiagnosed depression, persistent depressive symptoms and seeking mental health care: analysis of immigrant and non-immigrant participants of the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging. Epidemiology & Psychiatric Sciences, 29, 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Fazel, M., & Betancourt, T. S. (2018). Preventive mental health interventions for refugee children and adolescents in high-income settings. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 2(2), 121–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Fung, K., & Guzder, J. (2018). Canadian immigrant mental health. Mental health & Illness in Migration, 1-21.

  29. Gillis, A., & Jackson, W. (2002). Research methods for nurses: methods and interpretation. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

  30. Goings, R. B., & Bianco, M. (2016). It’s hard to be who you don’t see: an exploration of Black male high school students’ perspectives on becoming teachers. The Urban Review, 48(4), 628–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hadfield, K., Ostrowski, A., & Ungar, M. (2017). What can we expect of the mental health and well-being of Syrian refugee children and adolescents in Canada? Canadian Psychology/psychologie canadienne, 58(2), 194.

  32. Hamilton, H. A., Noh, S., & Adlaf, E. M. (2009). Adolescent risk behaviours and psychological distress across immigrant generations. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 100(3), 221–225.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Heptinstall, E., Sethna, V., & Taylor, E. (2004). PTSD and depression in refugee children. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 13(6), 373–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Huang, K. Y., Calzada, E., Cheng, S., & Brotman, L. M. (2012). Physical and mental health disparities among young children of Asian immigrants. The Journal of Pediatrics, 160(2), 331–336.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hussen, A. Immigration, refugees and citizenship Canada. (2018) 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration. Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

  36. Kalich, A., Heinemann, L., & Ghahari, S. (2016). A scoping review of immigrant experience of health care access barriers in Canada. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 18(3), 697–709.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Knightbridge, S. M., King, R., & Rolfe, T. J. (2006). Using participatory action research in a community-based initiative addressing complex mental health needs. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(4), 325–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kwak, K. (2016). An evaluation of the healthy immigrant effect with adolescents in Canada: examinations of gender and length of residence. Social Science & Medicine, 157, 87–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. MacDonald, C. (2012). Understanding participatory action research: a qualitative research methodology option. The Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13(2), 34–50.

    Google Scholar 

  40. McGarvey, D. (2019). Newcomer parents seek education on bullying following high profile Calgary cases. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-newcomers-bullying-refugees-immigrants-1.5171471.

  41. Mendoza, M. M., Dmitrieva, J., Perreira, K. M., Hurwich-Reiss, E., & Watamura, S. E. (2017). The effects of economic and sociocultural stressors on the well-being of children of Latino immigrants living in poverty. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 23(1), 15–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Mistry, R. S., Biesanz, J. C., Chien, N., Howes, C., & Benner, A. D. (2008). Socioeconomic status, parental investments, and the cognitive and behavioral outcomes of low-income children from immigrant and native households. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(2), 193–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Nakhaie, R., & Wijesingha, R. (2015). Discrimination and health of male and female Canadian immigrant. Journal of International Migration & Integration, 16(4), 1255–1272.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Noack, K., Elliott, N. B., Canas, E., Lane, K., Paquette, A., Lavigne, J. M., & Michalak, E. E. (2016). Credible, centralized, safe, and stigma–free: what youth with bipolar disorder want when seeking health information online. UBC Medical Journal, 8(1), 27–31.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Okeke-Ihejirika, P., Salami, B., & Karimi, A. (2018). African immigrant women’s experience in western host societies: a scoping review. Journal of Gender Studies, 27(4), 428–444.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Oxman-Martinez, J., Rummens, A. J., Moreau, J., Choi, Y. R., Beiser, M., Ogilvie, L., & Armstrong, R. (2012). Perceived ethnic discrimination and social exclusion: newcomer immigrant children in Canada. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(3), 376–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Pottie, K., Dahal, G., Georgiades, K., Premji, K., & Hassan, G. (2015). Do first generation immigrant adolescents face higher rates of bullying, violence and suicidal behaviours than do third generation and native born? Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, 17(5), 1557–1566.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Pottie, K., Dahal, G., Hanvey, L. & Marcotte, M. (2015). Health profile on immigrant and refugee children and youth in Canada. Section 4: Immigrant children and youth – cultural discordance. In: The health of Canada’s children and youth: a CICH profile. https://cichprofile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/section-4-immigrant-children-and-youth-cultural-discordance-en.pdf.

  49. Pyett, P. (2002). Working together to reduce health inequalities reflections on a collaborative participatory approach to health research. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 26(4), 332–336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. QSR International (2012). NVivo qualitative data analysis software: Version 12. Doncaster: QSR International.

  51. Robert, A., & Gilkinson, T. (2012). Mental health and well-being of recent immigrants in Canada: evidence from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/ircc/migration/ircc/english/pdf/research-stats/mental-health.pdf.

  52. Rosenfield, S. (2012). Triple jeopardy? Mental health at the intersection of gender, race, and class. Social Science & Medicine, 74(11), 1791–1801.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Rousseau, C., & Gagnon, M. M. (2020). Intervening to address the impact of stress and trauma on refugee children and adolescents resettled in high-income countries. In S. J. Song, & P. Ventevogel Child, adolescent and family refugee mental health (pp. 151-163). Springer, Switzerland.

  54. Salami, B., Yaskina, M., Hegadoren, K., Diaz, E., Meherali, S., Rammohan, A., & Ben-Shlomo, Y. (2017). Migration and social determinants of mental health: results from the Canadian health measures survey. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 108(4), 362–367.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Saunders, B., Sim, J., Kingstone, T., Baker, S., Waterfield, J., Bartlam, B., & Jinks, C. (2018). Saturation in qualitative research: exploring its conceptualization and operationalization. Quality & Quantity, 52(4), 1893–1907.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Schroeter, S., & James, C. E. (2015). “We’re here because we’re Black”: the schooling experiences of French-speaking African-Canadian students with refugee backgrounds. Race Ethnicity & Education, 18(1), 20–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Schumann, L. (2012). Individual and community factors in bullying and victimization in Canada. MSc Thesis, Queen’s University.

  58. Sengupta. J. (2019). ‘I get nightmares’: how racial violence in high schools is taking a mental toll on students. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/school-violence-racism-bullying-1.5328735.

  59. Statistics Canada (2019). Annual demographic estimates: Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2019. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/91-215-x/91-215-x2019001-eng.pdf?st=dxHoEGwp.

  60. Statistics Canada (2017). Data tables, 2016 census. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/dt-td/Rp-eng.cfm?LANG=E&APATH=3&DETAIL=0&DIM=0&FL=A&FREE=0&GC=0&GID=0&GK=0&GRP=1&PID=110528&PRID=10&PTYPE=109445&S=0&SHOWALL=0&SUB=0&Temporal=2017&THEME=120&VID=0&VNAMEE=&VNAMEF=.Stati.

  61. Staistics Canada (2011). Generation status: Canadian-born children of immigrants. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-010-x/99-010-x2011003_2-eng.pdf.

  62. Stewart, M., Dennis, C. L., Kariwo, M., Kushner, K. E., Letourneau, N., Makumbe, K., & Shizha, E. (2015). Challenges faced by refugee new parents from Africa in Canada. Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, 17(4), 1146–1156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Su, Y., Rao, W., & D’Arcy, C. (2020). Depression risk and body mass index among immigrants and non-immigrants in Canada: results from the Canadian Community Health Surveys, 2010–2014. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 55(10), 1283–1295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2017). International migration report, 2017. https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/migrationreport/docs/MigrationReport2017.pdf.

  65. van der Velde, J., Williamson, D. L., & Ogilvie, L. D. (2009). Participatory action research: practical strategies for actively engaging and maintaining participation in immigrant and refugee communities. Qualitative Health Research, 19(9), 1293–1302.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  66. van der Ven, E., Bourque, F., Joober, R., Selten, J. P., & Malla, A. K. (2012). Comparing the clinical presentation of first-episode psychosis across different migrant and ethnic minority groups in Montreal, Quebec. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(5), 300–308.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Vang, Z. M., Sigouin, J., Flenon, A., & Gagnon, A. (2017). Are immigrants healthier than native-born Canadians? A systematic review of the healthy immigrant effect in Canada. Ethnicity & Health, 22(3), 209–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Wang, L., & Palacios, E. L. (2017). The social and spatial patterning of life stress among immigrants in Canada. Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, 19(3), 665–673.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Whitley, R., Wang, J., Fleury, M. J., Liu, A., & Caron, J. (2017). Mental health status, health care utilisation, and service satisfaction among immigrants in Montreal: an epidemiological comparison. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 62(8), 570–579.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Wun, C. (2016). Unaccounted foundations: Black girls, anti-Black racism, and punishment in schools. Critical Sociology, 42(4-5), 737–750.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

This research has been funded by the generous support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bukola Salami.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Research Involving Human Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee at the University of Alberta (Ethics Approval No: Pro00080387).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Salami, B., Alaazi, D.A., Ibrahim, S. et al. African Immigrant Parents’ Perspectives on the Factors Influencing Their Children’s Mental Health. J Child Fam Stud (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-02130-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • African immigrant
  • Alberta
  • Canada
  • Children
  • Mental Health
  • Participatory action research