Meanings of Social Support, Coping, and Help-seeking Strategies among Immigrants and Refugees in Toronto

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By: Laura Simich, Farah Mawani, Fei Wu and Ardo Noor
Org: University of Toronto
Date: 2004

This paper (CERIS Working Paper Series. #31) reports on a study of the meanings of social support for Chinese immigrants and Somali refugees in Toronto as part of a national qualitative study.

The goals of the study were to describe immigrants and refugees' perceptions and methods of seeking social support, and to identify mechanisms to strengthen support by identifying unmet support needs and services and programs and policies that might be helpful. In the process of analyzing immigrants' and refugees' perceptions of social support both in Canada and in their homeland, we understand how they cope with challenges of settlement. While meanings of social support may be shaped by the culture and society of the sending countries, many coping and help-seeking strategies are shaped in response to challenges presented by the receiving society. The most effective social supports are those that enable newcomers to overcome barriers in settlement and adaptation.

The authors primary research objectives were:

  1. To describe the meanings of social support from the perspective of immigrants and refugees, specifically, a) sources and types of support in Canada compared to homeland; b) appraisal of support in Canada compared to homeland; c) duration and changes in support over residency in Canada; and d) perceived impact on health, health behaviour, and use of health services;
  2. To identify immigrants and refugees' methods of accessing/seeking social support;
  3. To compare immigrants' and refugees' meaning of social support and support seeking methods; and
  4. To determine mechanisms to strengthen support for immigrants and refugees by identifying, a) unmet support needs and b) services, programs, and policies that might be helpful.

The authors first focus on these issues from the perspectives of service providers and policy makers who were interviewed in the initial phase of the study. They then turn to a description of immigrants' and refugees' perceptions of social support, as well as effective coping and helpseeking strategies, from the second phase of the study. Lastly, they report on the recommendations from all participants for improving supportive services to newcomers.

This report is available for download in Adobe Acrobat PDF format (815 KB, 75 pages).