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Mental Health and Help-Seeking among
Refugee Children and Families in Hamilton, Ontario

Researchers: Amanda Sim1, Kathy Georgiades1, Afreen Ahmad1, Lina Hammad1, Sara Omar1, Rula Karam1, Yasmine Shalaby1, Rashed Afif2, Marion Trent-Kratz3, Eve Puffer4, Aroub Soubh5, Becky Katz6, Colina Maxwell6, Sarah Wayland7
Affiliation: Offord Centre for Child Studies, McMaster University1, Wesley Urban Ministries2, Children’s Services and Neighbourhood Development, City of Hamilton3, Duke University4, Peer Researcher5, Centre3 for Artistic + Social Practice6, Hamilton Immigration and Partnership Council7
Research Partners: Wesley Urban Ministries, Centre3 for Artistic + Social Practice, Hamilton Immigration and Partnership Council, and Children’s Services and Neighbourhood Development, City of Hamilton
Keywords: refugees, children, youth, families, resilience, wellbeing, mental health, health promotion and prevention, interventions, community based participatory research, mixed methods, art, knowledge mobilization, Hamilton, Ontario
Jump to: Full infographic, Methodology, Findings, Recommendations, Video, Publications & Reports


Overview: This study explored government-assisted refugee (GAR) families’ experiences of resettlement stressors and access to mental health supports in Hamilton, Ontario. In the knowledge mobilization phase of the study, parents and children shared their experiences of resettlement through an arts workshop, a public art exhibit, and a video.

Objectives: To understand refugee parents’ experiences of resettlement stressors in Canada, how they perceive the relationship between resettlement stressors and mental health, and the strategies and resources they use to cope.

Research Justification: The mental health of recently resettled refugee parents is not well understood despite evidence indicating higher risk of poor mental health. The ways refugee parents cope with and adapt to challenges and opportunities in their new environments are also less researched.

Infographic Excerpt

Full Infographic

Re-imagining Care Infographic

Executive Summary


The research team conducted a mixed methods survey with 40 Arabic-speaking government-assisted refugee (GAR) parents who had settled in Hamilton, Ontario within the past 4 years. Participants were the primary caregiver to at least one child between the ages of 4 and 17. Researchers ran exploratory regression models to examine associations between demographic characteristics, health status, resettlement stressors, and family conflict with the outcome of parental psychological distress. Semi-structured individual and group interviews were also conducted with 33 leadership and frontline staff from 14 organizations in the health, education, settlement, and social service sectors in Hamilton to understand barriers and facilitators to mental health care for refugee families.

In partnership with Centre3 for Artistic + Social Practice, the research team conducted 3 art workshops with 48 refugee parents and children who participated in the study. Workshop participants used a variety of methods (e.g. paint, collage, stickers, embroidery, printmaking) to reflect on their experience of leaving their countries of origin and settling in Canada, using a map of Hamilton as their canvas. With permission from participants, the research team and the Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council (HIPC) hosted an exhibition of the families’ artwork at Hamilton City Hall.


Refugee parents experience significant mental health challenges due to resettlement stressors. Children described leaving friends and loved ones and feeling a deep sense of isolation.

Despite these stressors, most parents rated themselves as coping well or very well and described various coping strategies such as positive reframing, problem solving, planning, and turning to religion.

Most refugee parents and children have not accessed mental health supports and know little about what services are available, indicating a need for greater investments in mental health promotion and prevention.


Video (Click to play)

Thriving Together – Research Findings on Newcomer Mental Health and Well-being in Hamilton

This video shares the project’s research findings and the artwork created by the newcomer families who participated in the knowledge mobilization component of the study.

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