In today’s time people all over the world are distressed with one common enemy, COVID-19. How we deal with the ramifications it has on our daily life, the inability to move about, see the people we love in person, touch and hug them, and travel is taking a toll on our mental health.
Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life, says the World Health Organization (WHO). It is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
To a new immigrant who is settling in to a new country, new climate and new culture this is particularly tough. Cynthia David is a mental health clinician, who has seen the struggles of her immigrant parents, and lived through them. “Their challenges were shared with us – some funny, silly and some heartbreaking,” she says. However, in most of the immigrant community mental health usually gets connected to disorder and is often loosely used for angry outbursts and fleeting emotions.
She recommends against the use of terms such as psychotic and bipolar that are used without proper clinical diagnosis fueling the stigma of mental health, more so in immigrant communities where the awareness of the issue is minimal.
Many factors, life events and issues affect human personalities that are complex. For immigrants who move to a new land perceiving that life would be better often does not unravel the way they expect which takes a toll on their mental well-being. “Moving to a place of better opportunities comes with its pros and cons and has the likelihood of affecting mental health,” she says.
Immigrants can be dealing with their internal demons as well as traumas such as war, famine, discriminations etc. When in a new country another set of challenges augments that, which could be the financial strain, language barriers, cultural discomforts that can be isolating making their mental health unstable.
When a person is struggling with mental health the signs can be subtle or pronounced. Subtle signs such as changes in behavior from normal functions, decreased motivation to do anything, low energy, self-isolating, changes in mood, contrasting from their normal personality, difficulty in sleeping, poor appetite, physical symptoms, hearing and seeing things that others may not, increased fear, thoughts of hurting oneself, helplessness or hopelessness may seem benign thus making it easier to ignore. She recommends that we keep a close eye on ourselves and our loved ones and notice the signs which will make the path to recovery easier because recognizing the issue is the first step towards it.
Given its ambiguity, mental health is a difficult area to navigate. Immigrants from different cultures have different practices they take to address mental health and it is important to respect the individual’s religions and spiritual beliefs and incorporate them while addressing it. It is extremely important that the immigrant population not shy away from issues of mental health.
When the signs are recognized, and understood it is best to start with a conversation that can be with a friend, family member or a qualified personnel. The immigrant community tends to ignore, overlook, dismiss, ridicule or mock the symptoms which can be hazardous.
Mental health issues can manifest in different ways requiring varied measures to deal with it. Usually it might not require medication at all but in some cases it will need medical attention. Cynthia calls on all to remain vigilant followed by consultations with the family doctor to discuss possible options and taking them seriously.
The government of Canada and a number of independent agencies offer help for those suffering mental health crises.
YBR Mobile Mental Health Support Services (https://www.ybrmentalhealth.com/)
Other specialized and provincial helplines can be found listed here:
Sometimes a new immigrant can feel discouraged to reach out for help as it is assumed that it will adversely affect one’s job prospects and promotions. However, Cynthia assures that reaching out will not impact job records, employment status or prospects. “The health record confidentiality is intact in Canada. Accessing health records are not possible, and they are not shared with employers,” she says, urging all immigrants and every Canadian to let go of that belief and seek help.
Cynthia advocates that we should not fear the consequences of taking action against issues related to mental health, but of not taking action. We should realize that the concept of mental health is different here in Canada than back home (to those who migrated). There are strict regulations and measures that are taken to help those suffering from mental health issues.
When it comes to mental health, identifying the problem and seeking help without fear of outcomes is your best bet.