Virtual mental health access for refugees

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Promising Practices in Accessing Virtual Mental Health: Supporting Refugees during COVID-19 is a project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Ministry of Health. 


The social conditions experienced by recently arrived refugees may expose them to increased stress and subsequently, greater distress, than other Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugee newcomers are also typically underserved by mental health services. For most recent refugees, access to health care is through referral by settlement workers, case workers, sponsors, or primary healthcare providers, who often struggle to identify culturally and linguistically appropriate mental healthcare for their clients. With the transition to virtual healthcare, refugees and those referring them may find mental health care even less accessible. As virtual care rapidly expands, service providers are struggling to learn how to identify which services are appropriate and accessible for their clients. By supporting referring service providers, as well as refugee newcomers themselves, we can improve our ability to connect vulnerable newcomers to needed mental health services.

Project description

Guided by advisory committees of refugee newcomers and service providers, this mixed method study will collect evidence on refugee client needs for virtual mental health services, their ability to use these services, and the accessibility of available services.

This project will help to:

To collect data from refugee newcomers, virtual interviews will be conducted. Virtual focus groups, surveys, and interviews will be conducted with settlement workers, health care providers and mental health practitioners in the four provinces that receive the greatest number of refugees: BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Importantly, the tools and skills developed for service providers working with the most vulnerable of newcomers will generalize to other newcomers, many of whom face similar challenges. Therefore, this project has the potential to improve the accessibility of virtual mental health services for all.


Assessing Virtual Mental Health Access for Refugees during the COVID-19 Pandemic Using the Levesque Client-Centered Framework: What Have We Learned and How Will We Plan for the Future?

Resources for service providers

The following are some helpful resources for service providers:

  1. Online counselling agreement from Windsor Counselling Services (PDF)
  2. Tips for Zoom meetings from Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) (PDF)
  3. Child and youth therapy considerations and decision tree from CCIS (PDF)
  4. CRR guidelines for video therapy from CCIS (PDF)
  5. Interpreter guidelines for video calling from CCIS (PDF)
  6. Interpreter debrief form from CCIS (PDF)
  7. COVID-19 needs assessment from ISSofBC (PDF)
  8. The Immigrant and Refugee Mental Health Project (website)

Please note that a third party(s) created these resources. While we are pleased to share these resources with you, they may not be fully accessible.

Resources for newcomers

Please find our collection of multilingual resources for newcomers at the bottom of the page.

The team

This project is made possible by the following individuals:

Project contact

For more information, contact the project coordinator Ms. Anna Oda:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research CIHROntario Ministry of Health