Highlights from a research conference held earlier this year on healthcare for uninsured and undocumented individuals are now available online. The conference, hosted by the Women’s College Network in collaboration with the Wellesley Institute, York University and University of Toronto, covered a variety of health care topics affecting undocumented and uninsured individuals, and framed the discussion in terms of health equity, human rights and the right to health care for all. Each session included policy recommendations for providing equitable health care services to undocumented and uninsured people.
One conference panel focused on the mental health issues of uninsured and undocumented individuals. Non-status immigrants can experience isolation, lack of control over their lives, stigma associated with mental illness and legal status, poor social integration, socio-cultural and linguistic barriers, and various systemic barriers. The result can be chronic stress, trauma and depression, which can contribute to a greater risk for psychiatric illness. As well, the status of many undocumented individuals changes from legal to illegal, and they are subsequently deprived of their rights, entitlements and legal access to public services, including health care and social services. They live in fear of deportation, which further prevents them from seeking help and medical services.
Another conference session looked at ways of improving access to mental health services for immigrants, refugees and non-insured people with HIV/AIDS. Newcomers account for 20 percent of all HIV cases in Canada, and this population faces multiple barriers to accessing health care services. The stigma associated with having a mental illness as well as HIV/AIDS can lead to negative health impacts.
Policy recommendations for undocumented and uninsured people with mental illnesses include adopting a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding immigration status in order to provide appropriate services; preventing exploitation by providing full accessibility to the justice system regardless of legal status; and providing equitable healthcare, mental health services and other supports, including social assistance, income support and access to employment.
See “Highlights: February 12, 2010 Research Conference on Healthcare for the Uninsured and Undocumented,” Wellesley Institute, April 2010, available at www.womenscollegehospital.ca.