Enhancing Cultural Literacy to Improve Refugee Mental Health Services: An Innovative Educational Initiative for Supporting Culturally Appropriate Service Provision in the Waterloo Region

Researchers: Jean de Dieu Basabose1, Dillion Browne1
University of Waterloo1
Research Partner: Community Healthcare Kitchener-Waterloo Refugee Health
Keywords: Refugees, newcomers, cultural literacy, mental health service providers, culturally appropriate services, intervention, e-learning, Waterloo Region, community-based research, qualitative methodology
Jump to: Full infographic, Methodology, Findings, Recommendations


Overview: This study explored the challenges related to cultural literacy in mental health care for families with refugee experience in the Waterloo Region.


  • To examine the cultural appropriateness of assessment tools used to diagnose mental health problems in refugee clients in the Waterloo Region.
  • To understand Service Provider Organizations’ (SPOs’) efforts to address challenges with cultural literacy.
  • To propose strategies to improve service delivery by enhancing cultural literacy.

Research Justification: Research shows that although they often have higher rates of poor mental health compared to the general population, refugee populations are less likely to seek help from mental health professionals. Refugees’ reluctance to seek help from mental health services could be related to the low cultural appropriateness of services available.

Infographic Excerpt

Full Infographic

Executive Summary


The research team first reviewed the literature on the meaning of cultural literacy, its relevance for refugee mental health care, challenges faced by healthcare providers in providing culturally appropriate services, existing strategies to promote culturally sensitive mental health services, and relevant subjects for a curriculum to prepare mental healthcare professionals to provide culturally appropriate services to refugee families. They then conducted online focus group discussions and individual interviews with 12 participants (10 mental health professionals and 2 SPO administrators from refugee-serving health centres in the Waterloo Region). In analysing their findings, the research team used an analytic framework informed by the Organizational Cultural Competence model.


Challenges to Providing Refugee Mental Health Services:

SPOs’ Worked to Increase Cultural Literacy in Refugee Mental Health Services by:


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