South Asian populations in Canada: migration and mental health

Author(s): Farah ISLAM ; Nazilla KHANLOU ; Hala TAMIM



South Asian populations are the largest visible minority group in Canada; however, there is very little information on the mental health of these populations. The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence rates and characteristics of mental health outcomes for South Asian first-generation immigrant and second-generation Canadian-born populations.


The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2011 was used to calculate the estimated prevalence rates of the following mental health outcomes: mood disorders, anxiety disorders, fair-poor self-perceived mental health status, and extremely stressful life stress. The characteristics associated with these four mental health outcomes were determined through multivariate logistic regression analysis of merged CCHS 2007–2011 data.


South Asian Canadian-born (3.5%, 95% CI 3.4-3.6%) and South Asian immigrant populations (3.5%, 95% CI 3.5-3.5%) did not vary significantly in estimated prevalence rates of mood disorders. However, South Asian immigrants experienced higher estimated prevalence rates of diagnosed anxiety disorders (3.4%, 95% CI 3.4-3.5 vs. 1.1%, 95% CI 1.1-1.1%) and self-reported extremely stressful life stress (2.6%, 95% CI 2.6-2.7% vs. 2.4%, 95% CI 2.3-2.4%) compared to their Canadian-born counterparts. Lastly, South Asian Canadian-born populations had a higher estimated prevalence rate of poor-fair self-perceived mental health status (4.4%, 95% CI 4.3-4.5%) compared to their immigrant counterparts (3.4%, 95% CI 3.3-3.4%). Different profiles of mental health determinants emerged for South Asian Canadian-born and immigrant populations. Female gender, having no children under the age of 12 in the household, food insecurity, poor-fair self-rated health status, being a current smoker, immigrating to Canada before adulthood, and taking the CCHS survey in either English or French was associated with greater risk of negative mental health outcomes for South Asian immigrant populations, while not being currently employed, having a regular medical doctor, and inactive physical activity level were associated with greater risk for South Asian Canadian-born populations.


Mental health outreach programs need to be cognizant of the differences in prevalence rates and characteristics of mental health outcomes for South Asian immigrant and Canadian-born populations to better tailor mental health services to be responsive to the unique mental health needs of South Asian populations in Canada.


Mental health, Mental illness. South Asian, Canada, Immigrant, Canadian-born, First generation immigrant, Second generation immigrant, Migration, Social determinants of mental health

Tags: South Asia, Canada, Immigrants, First generation, Second generation, Mood disorders, Anxiety, Stress, Well-being,  Social determinants

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