British Columbia

Syrian refugees will need mental health support, says B.C. advocate

Some 2,700 people fleeing Syria are expected to settle in B.C., many of whom will need mental health support to help deal with the trauma they've experienced.

'Settlement and mental health cannot be, in my mind, two separate practices,' says Dylan Mazur

A Syrian refugee carrying children, walks in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

It's estimated 2,700 Syrian refugees will be settling in B.C., many of whom will need mental health support to help deal with the trauma they've experienced back in Syria, as well as the stress of settling into a new country.

"They're confronting two pieces of trauma, said Dylan Mazur, executive director of the Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture

First, Mazur says, many people will have been separated from their children and families, tortured or witnessed violence. 

"Then there is this stress of having your entire life interrupted... not knowing the language, not being able to practise your profession, being on social assistance."

The association has been providing mental health services to refugees for almost 30 years but they are preparing to be overwhelmed with the number of people expected. 

"There aren't enough resources in place," he said. "There is very little capacity to serve government-assisted refugees."

While refugees do have to meet with a physician and work with a registered psychologist when they arrive, Mazur said there is no national or provincial mental health strategy for refugees — nor is there funding for it.

"There is very little, if any funding for mental health for refugees. We are at a tough time," he said.

Settlement and mental health program?

The association is speaking with various partners and government to get extra funding. 

It also would like to see a settlement program integrated with mental health, because mental well-being is also associated with stability and security in one's environment. 

"It's also building secure housing that's food secure and where their family is secure," he said. 

"Settlement and mental health cannot be, in my mind, two separate practices...Right now in policy and in a lot of the sector, [they are] practiced separately."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Little to no resources, funding for mental health for refugees with the CBC's Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.


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