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Minding the Iraqi refugee: Psychological challenges of Iraqi war refugees and the effectiveness of existing support services in Saskatoon



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This thesis explores the psychological challenges experienced by Iraqi war refugees living in Saskatoon, the effect of war trauma and forced displacement on their mental health, and examines the adequacy of existing mental health services in meeting their needs. Qualitative data collected from refugees, settlement workers, and mental health professionals in Saskatoon were used to provide an in-depth, person-centered understanding of the refugees’ experiences and the way existing services succeed or fail to correspond to their experiences. Convenience and snowball sampling were used to recruit participants. Life history and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 Iraqi refugees; semi-structured interviews were also conducted with 10 settlement workers and four mental health care providers. Additionally, one focus group interview was conducted with the settlement workers. The study was designed from a phenomenological point of view, and thematic analysis was used to analyze the data. The findings revealed that Iraqi refugees face many difficulties during different migration stages, which can include: traumatic experiences, loss and grief, and religious intolerance in Iraq; continuous fear for safety, separation from family members, uncertainty about the future in the transition country; and unmet expectations, racism and discrimination, difficulties entering the workforce, family conflicts, and loneliness in Canada. The data further identifies many gaps in the current mental health services provided to refugees in Saskatoon, such as difficulties of navigating the system, a lack of connection between different settlement agencies and the health region, and a lack of specialized training for service providers. Additionally, the interviews highlighted an underutilization of mental health services, which can be explained by stigmas around mental health, having other priorities, cultural differences in understanding mental illness, and a lack of culturally competent services. It is concluded that current mental health services in Saskatoon do not correspond to the mental health needs of Iraqi war refugees. Based on these findings, recommendations are provided for improvement of mental health services in Saskatoon, with primary focus in three areas: raising awareness, professional training, and developing culturally competent mental health services. A deeper understanding of the difficulties that Iraqi refugees have experienced, their psychological needs, and currently available mental health services is a prerequisite for improving the existing services and the refugees’ experience as Canada continues to open its doors to war refugees from the Middle East.



Iraqi Refugees, Psychological challenges, Effectiveness, Mental Health Services



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Culture and Human Development


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