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Refugee Children in Canada Could Be at Risk for Mental Health Issues, Experts Say

On #BlueMonday, Canadian health organizations used Twitter to put the spotlight on mental health, and the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) took the opportunity to shed light on the increased risks refugee children face when it comes to mental health issues.

Changing schools is hard enough on kids without the added obstacles of having to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, move to a new home, split up from family, and cope with the fact that your home country is conflict ridden. Some refugee children will also be dealing with the deaths of loved ones.

The CPS tweeted out its guide for health professionals who work with immigrant and refugee children, youth and families as a reminder to support the mental health needs of children new to Canada.

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In 2016, Canada welcomed more than 296,000 permanent residents, and more than 62,000 people were admitted as resettled refugees, according to the 2017 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.

Notably, Canada has welcomed 40,081 Syrian refugees since Nov. 4, 2015.

And the government was surprised by the number of Syrian refugee children that were amongst those refugees in 2015.

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“Many of the refugees had large numbers of children and that was not completely anticipated in the beginning,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister John McCallum in October 2016, according to CBC.

But guides like CPS’ can help assess the needs of children like this arriving in Canada.

“If we address these challenges early when kids come to Canada, then we promote resiliency and we promote a holistic sense of well-being,” Dr. Mahli Brindamour, a paediatrician who is part of CPS's Caring for Kids New to Canada task force, told HuffPost Canada.

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Brindamour explained that refugee children may have encountered violence or could have been removed from school for a long time. That, combined with being separated from family, or having been involved in war themselves, on top of being removed from their native countries, can all have effects on mental health.

“When we address all these needs, the children will do better in school, they will do better in the future, they will adapt better to their new environment, and be able to thrive and access their full potential,” Brindamour said.

People working with children need to look for signs of trauma like poor appetite, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with sleeping, nightmares, and behavioural issues, she said.

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Cultural awareness should also be addressed as different culture understand mental health differently, according to Brindamour.

“Usually kids who are new to Canada do very well and are healthy, but it's important to identify children who might struggle a little more so that we can help them overcome a small bump in the road or a bigger challenge so that everybody can fulfill their full potential after coming to Canada,” Brindamour said. “As health care providers, we can develop a compassionate way, and a trauma-informed way of caring for this very interesting and very resilient population.”

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