Mental Illness in Refugee and Immigrant Women: A Midwife's Perspective on Culturally Competent Care

Karline Wilson-Mitchell, CNM, MSN

The assessment, diagnosis and referral for mental illness management have been recognized as indispensable roles within midwifery practice both in the United States and in Canada. War, civil unrest and natural disasters, have made mental health assessment crucial for refugee and new immigrant women who present as midwifery clients. Since 1991, National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) had been conducted in cities across the United States and Canada using the Harvard Department of Psychiatry National Depression Screening Day Scale (HANDS©). It facilitates the diagnosis of depression based on DSM-IV criteria. The HANDS© tool includes a 10-item interview guide which is a “self-report scale”. HANDS© demonstrated good internal consistency and validity and 33 was 95 percent sensitive. Responses could indicate the need for thyroid screening, referral for mental health counselling or psychiatric care. Strategies for transforming midwifery practice are explored: taking a holistic approach, communication strategies, continuing education strategies, documentation and empowerment issues, multidisciplinary team approach, clinic environment issues, resources and referral base. As we develop expertise in the care of torture and trauma survivors, it behooves us to identify the experts amongst our ranks and to refer our clients to these midwives who will best meet their needs. Further research is needed to guide our incorporation of the skills for treating survivors in our educational programs for the midwives of the future.

midwifery, women, mental health assessment, refugee, immigrant, culture, war, depression.

This article has been peer reviewed.


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