An Ontario-based organization places holistic mental health services at the heart of the settlement process for newcomers to Canada.
Called the Newcomer Health and Wellness Program and funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to the tune of $2.2 million, this new initiative is designed to meet the needs of each newcomer in a personalized and comprehensive manner.
The Canadian Mental Health Association, York Region & South Simcoe (CMHA-YRSS) – a branch of a national non-profit organization serving the York Region in the Greater Toronto Area – is behind the new initiative focused on improving mental health and well-being outcomes for immigrants and refugees aged 12 years and older.
Much of the current research on the mental health of new immigrants indicates that they are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems. According to a recent study published by Statistics Canada and the IRCC, when they arrive in Canada, immigrants are healthier than the Canadian-born population – a phenomenon called the “healthy immigrant effect”. However, due to the stresses and strains of cultural differences, language barriers and the process of integrating into a new society, this initial health advantage often disappears.
“Some of the mental health concerns seen by the newcomer population include PTSD from experiences in their home country, acculturative stress, grief and loss,” Jun Maranan, CMHA-YRSS Newcomers Wellbeing Director of Services, told CIC News.
“Studies also show that the refugee and immigrant population have a significant increase in the incidents of mental distress, depression, anxiety and impacts of trauma.”
Settlement agencies and local mental health care providers offer support services that are accessible to newcomers facing these challenges, but most of the existing resources are not designed with the specific and unique realities of immigrant populations in mind.
Some newcomers may also be unaware of the many services available to them, while others may be reluctant to ask for help.
The new CMHA-YRSS program aims to address all these gaps. Launched this past August, the program includes a broad range of mental health and outreach activities. Among them are mental and physical health assessment, counselling and psychotherapy, health and wellness promotion and training, family counselling, as well as trauma-specific services.
An important part of the program is to create safe and welcoming spaces for the delivery of mental health care services.
“Interpretation will be used to ensure services are provided in the clients’ preferred language, the screening tool being used is one specifically designed for immigrants and refugees. The services will be provided in a space that they are familiar with.” Maranan explained.
“There will also be considerations for the various ways to describe experiences of mental health and to ensure that the clients’ spiritual and religious needs are met.”
The new CMHA-YRSS program was developed with the understanding that immigrants are a diverse group, and that each of them has very different ways of coping with stress and adversity in their lives. This makes it important to provide care for each person in a way that considers the diversity of their backgrounds.
For this reason, culturally appropriate mental health awareness will play a key role in how the settlement agencies and community care providers involved in the new program will be encouraged to engage in the care delivery process.
“This [means] working to ensure that those within the community know what to look for when working with newcomers and the ways in which they may explain that they are in mental distress without specifically discussing mental health. It will also take into consideration the experiences of the newcomers and various experiences which may be causing them mental distress,” said Maranan.
The CMHA-YRSS received three years of funding for the project with the possibility of a two-year extension. Part of the program will, therefore, focus on building the community’s capacity to respond to the needs of newcomers and ensure that they continue to be supported beyond the duration of the program.
With the current Canadian population of 7.5 million immigrants expected to almost double by 2036, understanding and supporting the physical and mental health of all newcomers is becoming increasingly important.
The Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being Program shows that governments and local community organizations are committed to ensuring that all people living in Canada have access to equitable, quality mental health services to help them lead full, meaningful, and successful lives.
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