Mental health issues in immigrant communities

By Abisha Sooriyathas

Posted on October 4, 2021
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Amongst the hustle and bustle of moving to a new country, many newcomers may not prioritize their mental health. This could also be due to the stigma surrounding mental illness within their home country or due to communication barriers in their new country. Nonetheless, mental health issues are a very real problem that many newcomers are facing today.

Proportion of immigrants experiencing emotional problems and stress

According to a 2012 study on Canadian newcomers, 29 percent of immigrants reported having emotional problems, such as persistent feelings of sadness, depression, and loneliness. Additionally,16 percent of immigrants said they experienced high levels of stress. Within this data, there are differences between demographics.

For example, refugees were much more likely to experience emotional problems and stress compared to family class immigrants. In addition, newcomers from Asia and the Pacific were more likely to experience emotional problems and day-to-day stress than their North American and Western European counterparts. This could be due to the fact that the former group may experience more of a culture shock upon immigration.

An overarching conclusion that is seen in both newcomer and non-newcomer populations is that individuals with a low-income are more likely to experience mental stress than those with a high-income.

Factors that can contribute to mental health issues

There are several factors that can contribute to these mental health issues. One study by the Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health was able to categorize these factors and explained how some of the effects of immigration lead to outcomes that have negative consequences on mental health.

In adult newcomers, immigration can disrupt a social support network which can lead to unemployment or underemployment. This financial stress can often contribute to mental health issues. In addition, adult newcomers often have firm knowledge of their status and their belonging in their home country, and immigration can result in a newly acquired uncertainty about their social status.
In children, this often manifests as stress surrounding the family’s adaptation to the new culture. Newcomer children may also experience discrimination or social exclusion amongst peers, which can lead to mental health issues.

These findings prove that although mental health issues in newcomers are often minimized or ignored, it is a topic that deserves significant attention. As this topic gains attention, newcomers should be able to receive the help that they need. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy feat.

Challenges that newcomers face when seeking mental health support

An article by the National Alliance of Mental Illness explains that many newcomers face additional challenges when seeking mental health support. For example, newcomers might face additional stigma within their immigrant communities and may experience language and communication barriers when seeking help. They may also feel a lack of belonging and struggle to find professionals who are aware of the issues that are specific to their own culture.

Luckily, as newcomers continue to settle and find success in Canada, the amount of mental health professionals of different backgrounds will increase. Steps are already being taken in the right direction. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has a webpage in which mental health information is provided in 25 different languages. This is a great starting point for learning about mental health issues and when to consider seeking help.

Continuing the conversation without shame

It is important to continue the conversation on mental health issues in newcomer populations in order to reduce the stigma surrounding this topic. The data shows that mental health issues are common to a large proportion of newcomers and even delves into the external, circumstantial factors that can contribute to these issues. As immigrants begin to realize that their mental health issues are not something to be ashamed of and begin courageously speaking of their battles with mental health, more newcomers will begin to feel comfortable reaching out for professional help.
If you are seeking professional help, the Canadian Mental Health Association has a webpage that includes contact information for mental health service groups catered to various newcomer demographics. Additional mental health support resources can be found on the Government of Canada website.

The Newcomer also has a list of mental health resources specifically for refugees and newcomers in the Greater Toronto Area

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