Ethnographic Case Study of a Community Day Center for Asylum Seekers as Early Stage Mental Health Intervention

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Abstract

Clinical guidelines in refugee mental health increasingly advocate phased approaches to intervention that foreground the provision of pragmatic and social support in contexts of ongoing instability. However, the impact of such interventions has rarely been explored from the perspective of refugees themselves. We conducted ethnographic research on the experiences and perceptions of users of an intervention embodying this approach: a community Day Center for asylum seekers in Montreal. Data comprising 15 interviews and field notes from 50 participant observation visits were analyzed using an established theoretical framework to identify mechanisms supporting self-perceived wellbeing among users in the domains of safety, social networks, justice, identity/roles, and existential meaning. Results shed light on how this nonspecific buffering intervention responds to the threats and pressures asylum seekers themselves identify as most salient in the immediate postflight context. These findings are discussed in relation to emerging theoretical frameworks in refugee mental health that emphasize agency, justice, and the role of local ecologies. We conclude that the Day Center shows significant promise as an innovative early stage mental health intervention for precarious status migrants and merits further research and evaluation.

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