Language acquisition, unemployment and depressive disorder among Southeast Asian refugees: a 10-year study

Soc Sci Med. 2001 Nov;53(10):1321-34. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(00)00412-3.


The current study examines the risk-inducing effects of unemployment and the protective effects of language facility on the mental health of Southeast Asian refugees resettling in Canada. Rates of depression and of unemployment declined dramatically during the first decade after arrival. Although language fluency also improved during this period, approximately 8% of the sample spoke no English even after 10 years in the country. Initial depression was a strong predictor of subsequent depression. For males, job experience in Canada was the strongest predictor of subsequent employment whereas, for women, depression proved an important predictor of employability. For men in particular, unemployment was a potent risk factor for depression. During the initial period of resettlement, English-speaking ability had no effect on depression or on employment. However, by the end of the first decade in Canada. English language fluency was a significant predictor of depression and employment, particularly among refugee women and among people who did not become engaged in the labor market during the earliest years of resettlement. Study results demonstrate that the mental health salience of risk and protective factors changes according to the phase of resettlement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asia, Southeastern / ethnology
  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Communication Barriers
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data
  • Sampling Studies
  • Unemployment / psychology*