© 2010 Canadian Medical Association or its licensors
Changing patterns of migration to Canada pose new
challenges to the delivery of mental health services
in primary care. For the first 100 years of Canada’s
existence, most immigrants came from Europe; since the
1960s, there has been a marked shift, with greater immigra-
tion from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.1The
mix differs across the provinces, although nearly all immi-
grants settle in Canada’s largest cities.2The task of prevent-
ing, recognizing and appropriately treating common mental
health problems in primary care is complicated for immi-
Canadian Guidelines for Immigrant Health
Common mental health problems in immigrants and
refugees: general approach in primary care
Laurence J. Kirmayer MD, Lavanya Narasiah MD MSc, Marie Munoz MD, Meb Rashid MD,
Andrew G. Ryder PhD, Jaswant Guzder MD, Ghayda Hassan PhD, Cécile Rousseau MD MSc,
Kevin Pottie MD MClSc; for the Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health (CCIRH)
From the Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry (Kirmayer), McGill
University, and the Culture & Mental Health Research Unit, Lady Davis Insti-
tute, Jewish General Hospital, PRAIDA (Narasiah, Munoz), CSSS de la Mon-
tagne, Montréal, Que., Department of Family and Community Medicine
(Rashid), University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont., the Department of Psychol-
ogy (Ryder), Concordia University, and the Culture & Mental Health
Research Unit, Jewish General Hospital, the Division of Social and Transcul-
tural Psychiatry (Guzder, Rousseau), the Department of Psychiatry, McGill
University, the Department of Child Psychiatry (Guzder), Jewish General
Hospital, the Department of Psychology (Hassan), Université du Québec à
Montréal, Youth Mental Health (Rousseau), CSSS de la Montagne (CLSC Parc
Extension), Montréal, Que., and the Departments of Family Medicine and
Community Health and Epidemiology, Institute of Population Health (Pot-
tie), University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.
CMAJ 2010. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.090292
• Among immigrants, the prevalence of common mental
health problems is initially lower than in the general
population, but over time, it increases to become similar to
that in the general population.
• Refugees who have had severe exposure to violence often
have higher rates of trauma-related disorders, including
post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain or other
• Assessment of risk for mental health problems includes
consideration of premigration exposures, stresses and
uncertainty during migration, and postmigration
resettlement experiences that influence adaptation and
• Clinical assessment and treatment effectiveness can be
improved with the use of trained interpreters and culture
brokers when linguistic and cultural differences impede
communication and mutual understanding.
Background: Recognizing and appropriately treating men-
tal health problems among new immigrants and refugees
in primary care poses a challenge because of differences in
language and culture and because of specific stressors
associated with migration and resettlement. We aimed to
identify risk factors and strategies in the approach to men-
tal health assessment and to prevention and treatment of
common mental health problems for immigrants in pri-
Methods: We searched and compiled literature on preva-
lence and risk factors for common mental health problems
related to migration, the effect of cultural influences on
health and illness, and clinical strategies to improve men-
tal health care for immigrants and refugees. Publications
were selected on the basis of relevance, use of recent data
and quality in consultation with experts in immigrant and
refugee mental health.
Results: The migration trajectory can be divided into three
components: premigration, migration and postmigration
resettlement. Each phase is associated with specific risks
and exposures. The prevalence of specific types of mental
health problems is influenced by the nature of the migra-
tion experience, in terms of adversity experienced before,
during and after resettlement. Specific challenges in
migrant mental health include communication difficulties
because of language and cultural differences; the effect of
cultural shaping of symptoms and illness behaviour on
diagnosis, coping and treatment; differences in family
structure and process affecting adaptation, acculturation
and intergenerational conflict; and aspects of acceptance
by the receiving society that affect employment, social sta-
tus and integration. These issues can be addressed through
specific inquiry, the use of trained interpreters and culture
brokers, meetings with families, and consultation with
Interpretation: Systematic inquiry into patients’ migration
trajectory and subsequent follow-up on culturally appropri-
ate indicators of social, vocational and family functioning
over time will allow clinicians to recognize problems in
adaptation and undertake mental health promotion, dis-
ease prevention or treatment interventions in a timely way.
Early release, published at www.cmaj.ca on July 5, 2010. Subject to revision.
grants and refugees because of differences in language, cul-
ture, patterns of seeking help and ways of coping.3–6
In consultation with experts in immigrant and refugee
mental health, we reviewed the literature to determine associ-
ated risks and clinical considerations for primary care practi-
tioners in the approach to common mental health problems
among new immigrant or refugee patients.7–10 In this paper,
we review the effect of migration on mental health, use of
health care and barriers to care. We outline basic clinical
strategies for primary mental health care of migrants includ-
ing the use of interpreters, family interaction and assessment,
and working with community resources.
We designed a search strategy in consultation with a librar-
ian scientist to identify systematic reviews and guidelines
that address clinical considerations for assessment, treat-
ment and prevention of common mental disorders among
immigrants and refugees in primary care. The search cov-
ered MEDLINE, HealthStar (Ovid), EMBASE, PsycINFO,
CINAHL and the Cochrane Database of Systematic
Reviews from January 1998 to December 2009. This search
was supplemented by articles identified through evidence
reviews conducted for other topics in the guidelines of the
Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health
(CCIRH) (e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder,
intimate partner violence and child maltreatment). Articles
were selected on the basis of relevance to key questions,
recent publication and quality of evidence. Details of the
search and selection strategy can be found on the CCIRH
website (www.ccirh.uottawa.ca). We provide a descriptive
synthesis and discussion of the results.
The search identified 840 articles addressing detection, pre-
vention and management of common mental health problems
among immigrants and refugees in primary care. There were
no published guidelines. After assessment for relevance and
quality, we retained 113 articles, including 10 systematic
reviews and 5 meta-analyses (Figure 1).
How does migration affect mental health?
Rates of mental disorders vary in different migrant groups,
but these differences do not simply reflect the rates in the
countries of origin.11 Instead, prevalence of specific types of
problems and rates of health care use in particular groups can
be linked to migration trajectories in terms of adversity expe-
rienced before, during and after resettlement and to policies
and practices that determine who gains admittance to
Canada.12 Table 1 lists some of the migration-related factors
that influence mental health and that can be explored in a
clinical assessment.12–23 The effect of these factors varies
greatly with their severity and with their specific meaning for
patients, their families and their communities, as well as for
the wider society. Postmigration factors that moderate the
effects of premigration stress and that ensure employment and
economic stability are especially important in ensuring good
In general, population studies find that the health of immi-
grants tends to be better than that of the general population in
both the sending and receiving countries.24,25 Immigrants to
Canada often show slightly lower rates of mental disorders
than the general population.26,27 The 2000–2001 Canadian
Community Health Survey found that newly arrived immi-
grants (length of residence less than one to four years) had the
lowest rates of depression (odds ratio [OR] 0.33, 95% confi-
dence interval [CI] 0.26–0.41) and alcohol dependence (OR
0.05, 95% CI 0.02–0.12) compared with the Canadian-born
population.28 Rates in immigrants varied by region of origin,
with the highest rates found among immigrants from Europe
and the lowest among those from Africa and Asia.
The “healthy immigrant effect” reflects the fact that
immigrants must pass through a variety of filters to achieve
immigrant status. However, the health of immigrants tends to
worsen over time to match that of the general population.29,30
For example, a recent analysis of data from the United States
found that rates of depression and other disorders were lower
for new immigrants (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.5–0.9) but rose over
n = 74
n = 11
n = 840
Excluded n = 477
and other studies
n = 144
Excluded n =
(lack of relevance)
Excluded n = 20
eligibility n = 363
reviews and 5
n = 113
Excluded n = 31
(lack of relevance,
outdated, poor quality)
Figure 1: Search and selection flow sheet. Note: SR = systematic
time to local levels. Rates were similar to those in the general
population for immigrants who arrived before age 12 and for
the children of immigrants.31 In contrast, systematic reviews
and meta-analyses confirm that refugees are at substantially
higher risk than the general population for a variety of spe-
cific psychiatric disorders — related to their exposure to war,
violence, torture, forced migration and exile and to the
uncertainty of their status in the countries where they seek
asylum — with up to 10 times the rate of post-traumatic
stress disorder as well as elevated rates of depression,
chronic pain and other somatic complaints.22,32–35 Exposure to
torture is the strongest predictor of symptoms of post-trau-
matic stress disorder among refugees.35
Strong evidence shows that some groups of migrants have
an elevated incidence of psychotic disorders after migration.36–39
A recent meta-analysis found a mean weighted relative risk of
schizophrenia among first-generation migrants of 2.7 (95%
CI 2.3–3.2); even higher rates were found in the second gen-
eration.40 Factors related to increased risk included coming
from a developing country and an area where most of the
population is black, suggesting that racism and discrimination
have a role in elevated incidence. A similar effect of migra-
tion has not been found for mood disorders in the United
Kingdom,41 but there is evidence for an increase in the preva-
lence of common mental disorders among men (but not
women) from the Caribbean after migrating to the US.42
These issues have not been studied in Canada, although expo-
sure to racism and discrimination has been shown to have
negative effects on the mental health of immigrants and
Migration involves three major sets of transitions: changes
in personal ties and the reconstruction of social networks, the
move from one socio-economic system to another, and the
shift from one cultural system to another.46,47 The migration
trajectory can be divided into three components: premigra-
tion, migration and postmigration resettlement. Each phase is
associated with specific risks and exposures. The premigra-
tion period often involves disruptions to usual social roles and
networks. During migration, immigrants can experience pro-
longed uncertainty about their citizenship status as well as sit-
uations that expose them to violence.19 Those seeking asylum
in particular sometimes spend extended periods in refugee
camps with poor resources and endemic violence. In some
countries, asylum seekers are kept in detention centres with
harsh conditions, which lead to a sense of powerlessness.48
This sense can provoke or aggravate depression and other
mental health problems.18,49,50
Once future status is decided, resettlement usually brings
hope and optimism, which can have an initially positive effect
on well-being. Disillusionment, demoralization and depression
can occur early as a result of migration-associated losses, or
later, when initial hopes and expectations are not realized and
when immigrants and their families face enduring obstacles to
advancement in their new home because of structural barriers
and inequalities aggravated by exclusionary policies, racism
and discrimination.45,51,52 For example, some immigrants
Table 1: Factors related to migration that affect mental health12–23
Premigration Migration Postmigration
Economic, educational and occupational
status in country of origin Trajectory (route, duration) Uncertainty about immigration or
Disruption of social support, roles and
Exposure to harsh living conditions
(e.g., refugee camps)
Unemployment or underemployment
Trauma (type, severity, perceived level of
threat, number of episodes)
Exposure to violence Loss of social status
Political involvement (commitment to a
Disruption of family and community
Loss of family and community social
Uncertainty about outcome of migration Concern about family members left
behind and possibility for reunification
Difficulties in language learning,
acculturation and adaptation
(e.g., change in sex roles)
Age and developmental stage at
Separation from caregiver Stresses related to family’s adaptation
Disruption of education Exposure to violence Difficulties with education in new
Separation from extended family and
Exposure to harsh living conditions
(e.g., refugee camps)
Acculturation (e.g., ethnic and religious
identity; sex role conflicts;
intergenerational conflict within family)
Poor nutrition Discrimination and social exclusion (at
school or with peers)
Uncertainty about future
encounter difficulties in having their credentials recognized,
which compromises their ability to find work commensurate
with their education level.33 Events that evoke elements of past
trauma and loss can contribute to the re-emergence of anxiety,
depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.53 An extensive
body of qualitative research of good quality and surveys with
clinical and community samples suggests that the main
domains of resettlement stress include social and economic
strain, social alienation, discrimination and status loss, and
exposure to violence.17,18,54–56 Culture change itself poses distinct
challenges for individual identity and family life.47 Risk factors
for mental health problems can differ for men and women; for
example, language proficiency often has a greater influence on
men’s employment and subsequent mental health.57
In general, immigrants and refugees are less likely than
their Canadian-born counterparts to seek out or be referred to
mental health services, even when they experience compara-
ble levels of distress.58–63 This can reflect both structural and
cultural barriers, including the lack of mobility or ability to
take time away from work, lack of linguistically accessible
services, a desire to deal with problems on one’s own, the
concern that problems will not be understood by practitioners
because of cultural or linguistic differences, and fear of
stigmatization.64–68 In many developing countries, mental
health services are associated only with custodial or hospital
treatment of the most severely ill and psychotic patients.
Partly as a consequence, and also because of specific cultural
explanations of illness, mental disorders are highly stigma-
tized in most countries, and patients are extremely reluctant to
attribute symptoms to a mental disorder. The stigma of a psy-
chiatric diagnosis affects not only patients but also their sib-
lings and other family members.
Adolescents and children
Research on the mental health of adolescents who are immi-
grants or refugees shows wide variation in rates across stud-
ies.15,69 Although some studies from treatment facilities and
small community samples find that migrant youth are at
higher risk for psychopathologic disorders, including post-
traumatic stress disorder, depression, conduct disorder (juve-
nile delinquency) and problems resulting from substance
abuse, results from a few large-scale community surveys
show that the rate of psychiatric disorder among immigrant
youth is not higher than that of native-born children.25,70 In
fact, many immigrant youth do exceptionally well upon
arrival and some surpass their native-born peers in aspiration
and academic achievement.71 Other studies reveal that many
children coping with a history of exposure to war and politi-
cal violence manage to have relatively good mental health.72–74
Studies in many countries including Canada find high lev-
els of distress and depression among young refugees.15,32,75–77
During the premigration period, most refugee children and
their families face social upheaval and disruptions to their
social and educational development. During migration, many
youth are separated from their parents and no longer have the
emotional, physical and financial support of their relatives.
Unaccompanied minors and children with unstable living sit-
uations are at particularly high risk for mental health prob-
lems.78–81 In the postmigration phase, youth often face accul-
turative stress and family poverty.82 Even after being reunited
with their families, children and adolescents must learn a new
language, renegotiate their cultural identity, and deal with
social isolation, racism, prejudice and discrimination.83 As
youth acculturate, many come into conflict with parents and
relatives who hold ideals and values different from those
being adopted by their children. Postmigration factors, includ-
ing the quality of reception and support in the country of asy-
lum, are important predictors of long-term outcome.33,84,85
The many roles and responsibilities of immigrant women in
the home and the workplace can impede their access to men-
tal health services.86 Immigrant women are at two to three
times the risk of their Canadian-born counterparts for post -
partum depression.87–89 Women generally do not proactively
seek help for postpartum depression.90 Barriers to seeking
help that could be more common or have a greater effect
among migrant women include a lack of knowledge about
postpartum depression and treatment options, reluctance to
disclose emotional problems outside the family, unwilling-
ness to undertake medical treatment for what is perceived as a
psycho social problem, concern that maternal mental illness
will burden or stigmatize the family, feelings of shame at
being labelled mentally ill, and fear of losing one’s children
Refugee women seen in specialized clinics have high rates
of exposure to violence and post-traumatic stress disorder that
often have not been addressed clinically.93 Experts emphasize,
however, that exploring the history or sequelae of rape or
other forms of sexual violence requires great clinical sensitiv-
ity and should always be guided by patients’ needs and com-
Seniors make up a smaller proportion of the refugee and
immigrant population in the initial migration, sometimes
arriving later to join the family. Risk factors for psychological
distress among newly arrived older immigrants include
female sex, less education, unemployment, poor self-rated
health, chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, asthma),
widowhood or divorce, and lack of social support or living
alone.95–97 When seniors join an already settled family, issues
can include slower rates of learning the language and accul-
turation; separation from extended family, peers and familiar
surroundings; decreased social support and isolation because
extended family and community networks are lost; increased
dependency on others because of language and mobility diffi-
culties; fewer opportunities for meaningful work and produc-
tivity; and loss of status as a respected elder in the new cul-
Which clinical strategies are effective?
In general, the same methods that are effective in diagnosing
and treating common mental health problems in primary care
for the general population can be extended to migrants from
diverse backgrounds. However, experts in migrant mental
health agree that, for maximum effectiveness, attention must
be given to various contextual and practical issues that influ-
ence illness behaviour, patient–physician communication
and intercultural understanding.100 Specific challenges in
migrant mental health include communication, cultural shap-
ing of symptoms and illness behaviour, the effect of family
structure and process on acculturation and intergenerational
conflict, and the receiving society’s facilitation of or imped-
ance of adaptation and social integration.25 There is limited
but consistent evidence from qualitative studies and clinical
experience in intercultural primary care that these challenges
can be addressed through specific enquiry into social and
cultural context, the use of interpreters and culture brokers,
meetings with families and consultation with community
How does culture affect health and illness?
Because migration often brings people together from very dif-
ferent cultural backgrounds, it is important to give explicit
attention to cultural dimensions of the illness experience.105
Place of origin can affect exposure to endemic diseases,
childhood immunization and health care experiences. Culture
can profoundly influence every aspect of illness and adapta-
tion, including interpretations of and reactions to symptoms;
explanations of illness; patterns of coping, of seeking help
and response; adherence to treatment; styles of emotional
expression and communication; and relationships between
patients, their families and health care providers.106 The out-
line for cultural formulation in the Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders, fourth edition, provides a basic
set of considerations that can be incorporated into assessment
of patients to explore clinically relevant aspects of their iden-
tity, illness explanations, psychosocial environment and
expectations for patient–physician relationships.107–110
Most patients in primary care with mental health problems
present with physical complaints, which can lead to under-
recognition and treatment of common mental disorders.111
Patients with depression or anxiety sometimes focus on physi-
cal symptoms or use culture-specific bodily idioms to express
distress.111,112 Medically unexplained symptoms, particularly
pain, fatigue, and gastrointestinal and genitourinary symptoms,
are common in the community and in primary care.113 When
interviewed outside medical settings, more patients report psy-
chosocial stressors, which they sometimes are reluctant to
reveal to physicians because they think such stressors are inap-
propriate topics for medical attention or they believe that their
situation will not be understood.64,114 There is limited but emerg-
ing evidence that information about associated psychological
distress and social predicaments can be elicited by enquiring
about the effect of the physical symptoms or other presenting
concerns on activities of daily living, stressors, social supports,
functioning in work and family, or community contexts.113,115–118
Use of multiple sources of help is common among
migrants, who may consult traditional forms of healing as
well as biomedical practitioners.119 In urban settings, patients
make use of treatments from many traditions in addition to
those related to their own cultural background or geographic
region of origin.120 If medications are being considered or
pres cribed, it is important to enquire about whether the
patient is using any home remedy or complementary medi-
cine that might interact with the metabolism and effective-
ness of a prescribed drug.121 Broad questions about use of any
medication, food or substance taken for health or medicinal
purposes can be followed by specific questions about the use
of commonly available substances, such as St. John’s wort
(Hypericum perforatum) or Ginkgo biloba, and about
whether patients receive medicines from family, friends or
country of origin. Finally, questions about previous or ongo-
ing consultations with a physician, healer or helper from
their own or other communities can uncover medication use
or other health concerns that can affect adherence, treatment
response and coping.6,122
Working with interpreters and culture brokers
Although most immigrants to Canada have some knowledge
of English or French, they might be limited in their ability to
express their concerns, describe symptoms and social predica-
ments, and negotiate treatment. Any patient who has limited
proficiency in the languages known by the clinician should be
encouraged to use a medical interpreter. Failure to use inter-
preters has been identified as one of the most important barri-
ers to accessing services for newcomers.123 Professional inter-
preters should be used to facilitate communication; telephone
interpreting services can be used when no local interpreter
can be found.124 Recent systematic reviews find that the use of
professional interpreters, rather than ad hoc translators (e.g.,
family friends, children, staff), improves communication sub-
stantially and helps reduce disparities in use of a range of
medical services.101,103 Professional interpreters can improve
communication and increase disclosure of psychological
symptoms among asylum seekers,14,125–127 and can be used to
deliver psychosocial interventions.128 Working effectively
with interpreters involves a collaborative process and specific
skills (Box 1).6
Except in urgent situations where there is no alternative,
family members or untrained lay people should not be used as
interpreters.129 Several studies have documented the limits of
nurses acting as interpreters. Because they are closer to the
physician’s position, nurses or other health professionals
might not convey some of the doubts and concerns or
requests made by the patient.130
Interpreters or other mediators can also take the role of
culture broker and advocate, translating not language but cul-
tural concepts or frameworks.131 However, if patients have
concerns about confidentiality vis-à-vis other members of
their linguistic community, they could perceive the presence
of an interpreter or culture broker as threatening. Each situa-
tion requires a specific assessment of the patient’s needs and
requirements for communication in the language in which he
or she is most fluent and comfortable.
Working with families
Many newcomers to Canada come from cultural back-
grounds where family members are usually consulted about
any health problem and accompany patients to physicians’
visits. Migration can stress and fragment families; close
members might be left behind, sometimes in dangerous cir-
cumstances. The tendency to focus on the patient in primary
care must be supplemented by close attention to the family
system and social network, which can include crucial mem-
bers in other countries. It is important to acknowledge and
welcome family members who accompany the patient.
Rather than excluding them because of privacy, meeting
family members together soon before meeting alone with a
patient can be an important step to building trust and a
source of valuable information.
Rules of confidentiality and disclosure should be applied
in a way that respects cultural context. For example, although
Canadian law protects confidentiality for youth older than 14
years and recognizes adult status at age 18, the cultural legiti-
macy of parental authority over adolescents should be taken
into account. For counselling and treating youth, interventions
should be framed in ways that avoid alienating family mem-
bers or aggravating intergenerational conflicts. Similarly, dis-
closure of diagnostic issues and family “secrets” (e.g., about
traumatic events) should be approached carefully, with an
understanding of what is at stake for the family. Finally, when
ambivalence toward treatment or nonadherence is an issue,
involvement of such mediators as a key family member or
trusted family ally in discussions of the different treatment
alternatives can strengthen the therapeutic alliance, empower
the family and provide necessary support to the patient.124
Working with community organizations
Resettlement after migration is strongly affected by the
policies, practices and opportunities of the resettlement
society as well as existing ethnocultural community organi-
zations and religious institutions, which support migrants in
work and in legal, religious and social aspects of their
adaptation.9,23,132 The presence of welcoming links within
ethnic communities or religious congregations can buffer
the effects of migration losses, isolation and discrimination.
Migrant youth living in communities with a high proportion
of immigrants from the same background are better
adjusted, partly because they have positive role models, a
stronger sense of ethnic pride and social support, which can
help them deal with the stressors of poverty, discrimination
and racism.71 Becoming familiar with existing community
and religious organizations can help practitioners identify
and mobilize psychosocial support and other resources
In urban centres with large immigrant populations, com-
munity resources can be divided into two broad categories:
multiethnic organizations that offer services related to settle-
ment and integration, and groups specific to various ethnic
backgrounds that provide a sense of belonging and support
for a particular ethnocultural identity. Before referring a
patient, it is important to identify which community he or she
feels part of and not to assume that the patient necessarily will
feel comfortable with a group that shares aspects of national,
religious or ethnic identity.
It is useful for practitioners to have a list of community
resources for specific needs (e.g., housing, food, language
courses, social support) and of the ethnocultural groups these
resources represent. However, a personalized referral (e.g.,
giving a specific name or calling the person in front of the
patient) is much more likely to result in success, particularly
in the case of a depressed, anxious and traumatized patient for
whom re-establishment of a social network is difficult
because of fear and distrust. In smaller communities, develop-
ing networks across social sectors and ethnocultural groups as
well as with colleagues in other centres can be useful.133
Box 1: Clinical approach to working with interpreters
and culture brokers
Before the interview
• Meet with the interpreter to explain the goals of the inter-
• Discuss whether the interpreter’s social position in country
of origin and local community could influence the
relationship with the patient.
• Explain the need for especially close translation in the
mental status examination (e.g., to ascertain thought
disorder, emotional range and appropriateness, suicide
• Ask the interpreter to indicate when a question or
response is difficult to translate.
• Discuss any relevant etiquette and cultural expectations.
• Arrange seating in a triangle so that the clinician is facing
the patient and the interpreter is to one side.
During the interview
• Introduce yourself and the interpreter and explain your
• Discuss confidentiality and ask for the patient’s consent to
have the interpreter present.
• Look at and speak directly to the patient; use direct speech
(e.g., “you” instead of “she” or “he”).
• Avoid jargon or complex sentence constructions; use clear
statements in everyday language.
• Slow down your pace; speak in short units to allow the
interpreter time to translate.
• Do not interrupt the interpreter; keep looking at the
patient while the interpreter is speaking.
• Clarify ambiguous responses (verbal or nonverbal) and ask
the patient for feedback to make certain that crucial
information has been communicated clearly.
• Give the patient a chance to ask questions or express
concerns that have not been addressed.
After the interview
• Discuss the interview and ask the interpreter to assess the
patient’s degree of openness or disclosure.
• Consider translation difficulties and misunderstandings
and clarify any important communication that was not
translated or was unclear, including nonverbal
• Ask the interpreter if he or she had any emotional
reactions or concerns of his or her own during the
• Plan future interviews; whenever possible, work with the
same interpreter or culture broker for the same patient.
More detailed information and resources for locating interpreters and
culture brokers can be found at www.mmhrc.ca.
Conclusion and research needs
Migration poses specific stresses, yet most immigrants do
well with the transitions of resettlement. Systematic enquiry
into the migration trajectory and subsequent follow-up on cul-
turally appropriate indicators of social, vocational and family
functioning will allow clinicians to recognize problems in
adaptation and undertake mental health promotion, preven-
tion or treatment interventions in a timely fashion.
Because the evidence is limited, research is needed to
develop and evaluate primary care strategies for promoting
mental health and preventing mental illness that respond to
the increasing diversity of immigrants and refugees in
This article has been peer reviewed.
Competing interests: Lavanya Narasiah has received speaker fees for
“travel health” presentations to GlaxoSmithKline.
Contributors: Laurence J. Kirmayer led the literature review process. Each
of the authors reviewed portions of the literature and wrote drafts of sections
of the paper. All of the authors reviewed and approved the final version sub-
mitted for publication.
Acknowledgements: Tomas Jurcik and Sudeep Chaklabanis coordinated the
review process; Jocelyne Andrews, Teodora Constantinu and Lynn
Dunikowski designed the bibliographic searches. Kay Berckmans and
Antonella Clerici provided secretarial support. John Feightner provided cru-
cial editorial input and advice.
Funding: The Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health
acknowledges the funding support of the Public Health Agency of Canada,
the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Institute of Health Services and
Policy Research), the Champlain Local Health Integrated Network and the
Calgary Refugee Program. The views expressed in this report are the views
of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funders. Travel and
accommodations for the Ottawa Expert Panel Conference were funded by the
Public Health Agency of Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada
funded background papers in chronic diseases and mental illness. The Cal-
gary Refugee Program, Champlain Local Integrated Network and Canadian
Institutes of Health Research (Institute of Health Services and Policy
Research) contributed to dissemination.
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Correspondence to: Dr. Laurence J. Kirmayer, Institute of
Community & Family Psychiatry, Jewish General Hospital, 4333
Côte Ste Catherine Rd., Montréal QC H3T 1E4;
Information on accessing resources to assist with intercultural
mental health care can be found through the Multicultural
Mental Health Resource Centre at www.mmhrc.ca
Clinical preventive guidelines for newly arrived immigrants
and refugees to Canada
This article is part of a series of guidelines for primary care
practitioners who work with immigrants and refugees. The
series was developed by the Canadian Collaboration for
Immigrant and Refugee Health.