Identity-Related Factors Affecting the Mental Health of African Immigrant Youth Living in Canada

  • Omolola OlawoEmail author
  • Beryl Pilkington
  • Nazilla Khanlou
Original Article


In countries like Canada with significant immigrant populations, immigrant youth can have various experiences that impact their identity and mental health outcomes. This paper presents findings from a study that examined the perceptions of mental health among African immigrant youth living in Canada and the factors that affect their mental health outcomes, including identity-related factors. An interpretive description design was used and eight participants were recruited. Data were gathered through in-person and phone interviews. The paper focuses on the migration factors that affect African immigrant youths’ mental health. Three subthemes emerged from participants’ experiences: (a) social support; (b) discrimination and othering; and (c) identity and cultural shock. Using critical theory and intersectionality, the study showed that African immigrant youths’ identity and mental health were influenced by deeper socio-political and historical factors.


Mental health African immigrant youth Cultural identity Intersectionality Critical theory Othering 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethics approval for the study was obtained through the University’s Office of Research Ethics. Informed consent was obtained from each participant, and process consent was utilized throughout interviews. Participants were offered a $10 cash gift as a token of appreciation for taking part in the study. All participants were provided pseudonyms to protect their identity.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Adekeye, O., Kimbrough, J., Obafemi, B., & Strack, R. W. (2014). Health literacy from the perspective of African immigrant youth and elderly: a photo voice project. Journal of Health Care for The Poor & Underserved, 25(4), 1730–1747. Scholar
  2. Alcoff, L. M. (2006). Visible identities: race, gender, and the self. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Altweck, L., & Marshall, T. C. (2015). When you have lived in a different culture, does returning ‘home’ not feel like home? Predictors of psychological readjustment to the heritage culture. PloS One, 10(5), e0124393.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berns-McGown, R. (2013). “I am Canadian”, challenging stereotypes about young Somali Canadians (p. 38). Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy No Retrieved from Scholar
  5. Canales, M. (2000). Othering: toward an understanding of difference. Advances in Nursing Science, 22(4), 16–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cho, Y.-B., & Haslam, N. (2009). Suicidal ideation and distress among adolescent immigrants: the role of acculturation, life stress, and social support. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 370–379. Scholar
  7. Fenta, H., Hyman, I., & Noh, S. (2006). Mental health service utilization by Ethiopian immigrants and refugees in Toronto. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 194(12), 925–934. Scholar
  8. Guruge, S., & Butt, H. (2015). A scoping review of mental health issues and concerns among immigrant and refugee youth in Canada: looking back, moving forward. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 106(2), e72–e78. Scholar
  9. Gustafson, D. (2005). Transcultural nursing theory from a critical cultural perspective. Advances in Nursing Science, 28(1), 2–16.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hansson E, Tuck A, Lurie S and McKenzie K, for the Task Group of the Services Systems Advisory Committee, Mental Health Commission of Canada (2010) Improving mental health services for immigrant, refugee, ethno-cultural and racialized groups: issues and options for service improvement. Retrieved from
  11. Khanlou, N. (2004) Immigrant youth mental health promotion in transnationalizing societies. Revista Brasileira de Enfermagem 57 (1):11–12. Retrieved from Scholar
  12. Khanlou, N., & Crawford, C. (2006). Post-migratory experiences of newcomer female youth: self-esteem and identity development. Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, 8(1), 45–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Khanlou, N., Koh, J. G., & Mill, C. (2008). Cultural identity and experiences of prejudice and discrimination of Afghan and Iranian immigrant youth. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 6(4), 494–513.Google Scholar
  14. Khanlou, N., Bender, A., Mill, C., Vazquez, L. M., & Rojas, L. (2018). Youth experiences of cultural identity and migration: a systems perspective. In S. Pashang, N. Khanlou, & J. Clarke (Eds.), Today’s youth and mental health: hope, power, and resilience. Advances in Mental Health and Addiction (Series editor: Masood Zanganeh) (pp. 57–76). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  15. Madibbo, A. (2016). The way forward: African francophone immigrants negotiate their multiple minority identities. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 17(3), 853–866. Scholar
  16. Makwarimba, E., Stewart, M. J., Beiser, M., Neufeld, A., Simich, L., & Spitzer, D. (2010). Social support and health: immigrants and refugees perspectives. Diversity & Equality in Health and Care, 7(2) Retrieved from:
  17. Mosqueda-Díaz, A., Vílchez-Barboza, V., Valenzuela-Suazo, S., & Sanhueza-Alvarado, O. (2014). Critical theory and its contribution to the nursing discipline. Investigacion & Educacion En Enfermeria, 32(2), 356–363. Scholar
  18. Munsey, C. (2006). Emerging adults: the in-between age. American Psychological Association, 6(37), 68 Retrieved from Scholar
  19. Ng, E. & Omariba, W. (2010). Is there a health immigrant effect in mental health? Evidences from population-based health surveys in Canada. Canadian Issues Summer 2010: Immigrant Mental Health, pp. 23–28. Retrieved from
  20. Orjiako, O. E. Y., & So, D. (2014). The role of acculturative stress factors on mental health and help-seeking behavior of sub-Saharan African immigrants. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, 7(3), 315–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Osuch, E., Summerhurst, C., Wrath, A., & Wammes, M. (2017). Youth perspectives on the mental health treatment process: what helps, what hinders? Community Mental Health Journal, 53(1), 72–78. Scholar
  22. Perez, R. (2016). Effects of immigration during adolescence on mental health and social well-being. Issues In Mental Health Nursing, 37(10), 765–768. Scholar
  23. Poncian, J. (2015). The persistence of Western negative perceptions about Africa: factoring in the role of Africans. Journal of African Studies and Development, 7(3), 72–80. Scholar
  24. Shakya, Y. B., Khanlou, N., & Gonsalves, T. (2010). Determinants of mental health for newcomer youth: policy and service implications. Canadian Issues, 98.Google Scholar
  25. Statistics Canada. (2007). The African community in Canada. Retrieved from
  26. Statistics Canada. (2012). The immigrant labour force analysis aeries: The Canadian immigrant labour market. Retrieved from
  27. Statistics Canada (2017). Immigration and ethnocultural diversity: key results from the 2016 census. Retrieved from
  28. Stroink, M. L., & Lalonde, R. N. (2009). Bicultural identity conflict in second-generation Asian Canadians. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149(1), 44–65 Retrieved from Scholar
  29. Thorne, S. (2008). Interpretive description: Qualitative research for applied practice. 1st ed. California: Left Coast Press Inc. Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Thorne, S. (2016). Interpretive description: qualitative research for applied practice (2nd ed.). California: Left Coast Press Inc. Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Venters, H., Adekugbe, O., Massaquoi, J., Nadeau, C., Saul, J., & Gany, F. (2011). Mental health concerns among African immigrants. Journal Of Immigrant & Minority Health, 13(4), 795–797. Scholar
  32. Viruell-Fuentes, E. (2011). It’s a lot of work. Du Bois Review, 8(1), 37–52. Scholar
  33. Viruell-Fuentes, E. A., Miranda, P. Y., & Abdulrahim, S. (2012). More than culture: structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health. Social Science & Medicine, 75(12), 2099–2106. Scholar
  34. Wolf, K. M., Zoucha, R., McFarland, M., Salman, K., Dagne, A., & Hashi, N. (2016). Somali immigrant perceptions of mental health and illness. Journal Of Transcultural Nursing, 27(4), 349–358. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Graduate Studies-NursingYork UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations