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The Organization of Social Services and its Implications for the Mental Health of Immigrant Women

Publisher:  Working Women Community Centre, Toronto, Canada
Year Published:  1979  
Pages:  126pp  
Resource Type:  Article

Abstract:  This study deals with what some community workers see as a serious inadequacy in the social services delivery system. The authors are concerned about the way in which social services are administered to such people as low-income Spanish and Portuguese-speaking women. The author's research uncovers how "mental health" is understood by social service agencies.

The authors describe the many personal and social struggles immigrant women experience including family struggles, language struggle, financial and working struggles (as some women work on two jobs). Government social service agencies tend to deal with problems arising out of these struggles as individual rather than social problems. When an immigrant woman is unable to cope, most social service agencies refer her to professional counseling believing she is mentally ill.

Rather than defining mental illness as "abnormal behavior", the authors of this study suggest that the focus should be on the "woman's experience and on her attempts to change her situation". Psychiatrists and other counselors are challenged to treat the causes rather than the symptoms. The causes, it is said, may actually be related to the pressures a woman is under to work both outside the home during the day and in the home at night.

This report includes recommendations to change the social service structure to more adequately respond to the needs of those it serves. One program recommendation deals with the issue of isolation and suggests that immigrant women gather in comfortable meeting places. A general recommendation calls for the funding of mental health programs through community agencies in order to bring appropriate services to those who need them.

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