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New Program Offers Full Range Of Mental Health Services For Immigrants

An Ontario-based organisation places holistic mental health services at the heart of the settlement process for new immigrants to Canada.

Called the Newcomer Health and Wellness Program and financed by Canada’s Immigration department or IRCC to the tune of $2.2 million, this new program is designed to meet the needs of each immigrant in a personalized and comprehensive manner.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, York Region & South Simco (CMHA-YRSS) – a branch of a national non-profit organisation serving the York Region in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – is also behind the new program focused on improving mental health and well-being outcomes for immigrants and refugees aged twelve (12) years and older.

Much of the most recent research on the mental health of newcomers shows that they are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems.

According to a current study published by the IRCC and Statistics Canada, when they arrive in Canada, immigrants are more healthier than the Canadian-born population – a phenomenon called the “healthy immigrant effect”.

However, due to the strains or stresses of cultural differences, language barriers and the process normally involved integrating into a new society, this initial health advantage often disappear.

“Some of the mental health concerns seen by the immigrants population include PTSD from experiences in their country origin, aculturative stress, grief and loss,” Jun Maranan, CMHA-YRSS Newcomers Welbeing Director of Services, told Canusim news.

“Studies also reveals that the refugee and immigrant population have a massive increase in the incidents of mental distress, anxiety, depression, and impacts of trauma.”

Settlement agencies and local mental health care providers offer assistance or services that are accessible to new immigrants facing these problems, but most of the existing resources are not designed with the specific and unique realities on the ground.

Some immigrants may also be unaware of the many services available to them, while others may not be ready to ask for help.

The new CMHA-YRSS program aims to work on all these lapses. Introduced this past August, the initiative includes a broad range of mental health and outreach activities.

Among them are mental and physical health assessment, health and wellness promotion and training, counseling and psychotherapy, family counseling, as well as trauma-specific services.

An important aspect of the program is to establish safe and welcoming spaces for the delivery of mental health care services.

“Interpretation will be used to make sure services are provided in the clients’ most preferred language, the screening tool utilised is one specifically created for immigrants and refugees. The services will be provided in a space that they are familiar with.” Maranan said.

“There will also be delibration for the various ways to describe experiences of mental health and to ensure that the clients’ religious and spiritual needs are met.”

The new CMHA-YRSS program was designed with the understanding that immigrants or newcomers are a diverse group, and that they have very different ways of coping with stress and adversity in their lives.

This makes it vital to provide care for each person in a way that considers the diversity of their backgrounds.

For this reason, culturally appropriate mental health services awareness will play a major role in how the settlement 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 settled within the community knows what to look for when working with immigrants and the way in which they may explain that they are in mental distress without specifically discussing mental health.” said Maranan.

The CMHA-YRSS got three years of funding for the program 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 new immigrants and ensure that they continue to be assisted beyond the duration of the program.

The Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being Program shows that federal governments and local community organization are committed to ensuring that all immigrants living in Canada have access to equitable, high quality, mental health services to support them lead full, meaningful, and successful lives.