Addressing Challenges in Mental Health Support for New Somali Canadians

by | Jan 27, 2024 | News, opinion

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Canada has a rich history of welcoming refugees, including those from Somalia, and has positioned itself well to provide comprehensive mental health support to incoming Somali refugees. Since the influx of Somali refugees began after the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, Canada has endeavoured to provide assistance and care. However, over the years, the effectiveness of this support has diminished compared to the early years. It’s important to clarify that advocating for improved mental health support for Somali Canadians does not imply favouritism over other communities in Canada. Instead, it highlights the need for more effective support delivery to meet the evolving needs of the Somali Canadian community. Here are five reasons why the current mental health support for this community falls short:

Cultural Stigma

Overcoming the profoundly ingrained cultural stigma surrounding mental health within the Somali community presents a significant challenge. Traditional beliefs often view mental health struggles as a sign of weakness or spiritual possession, discouraging individuals from seeking professional help. Moreover, discussions about mental health are often taboo, creating barriers for newcomers to address their struggles openly.


While this issue is common to the Somali community and affects various cultural groups, the strategies to combat it still need to be improved. Organizations responsible for providing support should adopt proactive measures to address this stigma.

Rather than passively waiting for individuals to seek help, hosting more open discussions conducted in native Somali languages could effectively break down barriers and encourage individuals to seek assistance. Witnessing their peers engage in conversations about mental health may prompt others to join the discussion, gradually eroding the stigma surrounding mental health within the community.

Language Barriers

Many new Somali Canadians face significant challenges in accessing mental health services due to language barriers. Expressing emotions and experiences in English or French, the official language of Canada can be daunting for individuals, especially when communicating with mental health support organizations. This challenge alone might be why many people hesitate to seek help.


Despite serving the Somali community, many mental health support organization websites lack content in languages other than English or French. Some organizations rely on automatic translations, which often fail to convey information in Somali accurately. To rectify this, it is crucial for every organization catering to the Somali community to provide content in both English and Somali languages. This approach ensures that individuals can access information in their preferred language through reading, listening, or watching.

Moreover, recognizing that many individuals may not visit websites, services should be accessible through other social media channels or delivered directly to their doorsteps, such as through magazines or pamphlets. By meeting individuals where they are most comfortable and providing information in their native language, mental health support organizations can effectively bridge the language gap and ensure equitable access to services for the Somali community.

Limited Access to Services

Somali Canadians encounter significant challenges in accessing culturally appropriate mental health services, exacerbating their mental health struggles. Remote or underserved areas often lack accessible resources, compelling individuals to travel long distances for support. Additionally, financial constraints pose further barriers to accessing necessary mental health care.


To address this issue, the government should prioritize making mental health support accessible in rural areas, ensuring that individuals in these communities have equitable access to services comparable to those available in urban centers. This may involve establishing mental health clinics or partnering with existing healthcare facilities to provide specialized services.
Alternatively, existing mental health support organizations can improve online services to reach individuals in small cities and remote areas. By expanding their digital platforms, these organizations can deliver mental health resources, counselling services, and support groups to individuals who may otherwise face geographical barriers.


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