Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 504–534 | Cite as

“We Went Out to Explore, But Gained Nothing But Illness”: Immigration Expectations, Reality, Risk and Resilience in Chinese-Canadian Women with a History of Suicide-Related Behaviour

  • Juveria Zaheer
  • Rahel Eynan
  • June S. H. LamEmail author
  • Michael Grundland
  • Paul S. Links
Original Paper


Suicide is a complex and tragic outcome driven by biological, psychological, social and cultural factors. Women of Chinese descent and women who have immigrated to other countries have higher rates of suicidal ideation and behaviour, and immigration-related stress may contribute. To understand the experiences of immigration and their relationship with distress and suicide-related behaviour in Chinese women who have immigrated to Canada. 10 semi-structured qualitative interviews with Chinese women who have immigrated to Toronto, Canada and have a history of suicide-related behaviour were completed and analyzed using a constructivist grounded theory methodology. Immigration-related and acculturation stress stemmed from unmet expectations and harsh realities. These repeated experiences resulted in hopelessness, helplessness, and alienation, which are risk factors for suicide and suicide-related behaviour. However, immigration-related support can also increase hope, self-efficacy and connectedness to foster recovery and resilience. This is the first qualitative study focusing on immigration experiences and its relationship to suicide-related behaviour in Chinese immigrant women. Knowledge of immigration and acculturation stressors can a) help identify and support women at risk for suicide and b) form a target for social intervention for all immigrant women, regardless of suicide risk.


Chinese Canadian Suicide Immigration Acculturation 



The authors would like to acknowledge Catherine Cheng, who conducted the interviews in Cantonese and Mandarin and assisted in data analysis. Most importantly, we would like to thank the ten women who selflessly shared their time, experience, and insight. Their bravery and strength in the face of adversity is profoundly moving.


This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Natural Science Foundation of China (CCI-109616)—$84,096 in Canada and 538,000 RMB in China over two years (with two extensions).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed 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.

Informed Consent

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


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juveria Zaheer
    • 1
  • Rahel Eynan
    • 2
    • 3
  • June S. H. Lam
    • 4
    Email author
  • Michael Grundland
    • 4
  • Paul S. Links
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Lawson Health Research InstituteLondonCanada
  3. 3.Parkwood Institute Research Mental Health Care Building , Department of PsychiatrySchulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western UniversityLondonCanada
  4. 4.Postgraduate Medical Education Office, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural NeurosciencesMcMaster University, Psychotherapy CentreHamiltonCanada

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