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Mental Health Issues Affecting Refugee Youth in Canada who Experienced Family Loss and Separation in their Country of Origin

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5 (7):68-79


The objective of this article is to understand the key mental health problems affecting unaccompanied refugee youth in Canada
who experienced family loss and separation in their country of origin. This article is based on a research project that adopted a
multi-phase sequential research design/strategy. This strategy entails that the first phase consisted of a scoping literature review to
synthesize existing evidence and to identify knowledge gaps related to post-migration effects of loss and separation on the well-being
of refugee youth and their families. The data collection phase included two focus groups with service providers and three focus group
sessions with the refugee youth themselves. Refugee youth face several mental health problems resulting from pre-migration, perimigration, and post-migration conditions. This study demonstrated that a significant number of unaccompanied refugee youth experience mental illness. The most commonly reported mental illnesses among the youth were post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
depression, and anxiety. Many of the refugee youth developed coping strategies to help deal with their sadness about family loss or
disappearance and the circumstances they were currently in surrounding their settlement. The article concludes that experiences of
separation from or loss of one or more family members affect refugee youth’s mental health negatively. Nevertheless, most refugee
youth approached for this study were not interested in talking about these, due to their perceived stigma and aversion to openly
discussing mental health issues. The current support service and policies in Canada are serving refugee youth to meet their needs
partially. There is an opportunity to build the capacity of the service providers with generated evidence, make the service navigation
tools more user-friendly, and advocate amendment of the policies to address the real needs of the separated refugee youth.

Keywords: Refugee Youth; Family Loss and Separation; Mental Health; PTSD, Trauma; Access Alliance; Canada