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A look into the human cost of under-employment for new Canadians

Published January 28, 2021.

Mental health is crucial to our well-being, and yet many people find it hard to open up and talk about the issue due to associated stigmas. A recent report by Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with University of British Columbia shows that mental health has, since the offset of the covid-19 pandemic deteriorated. For newcomers to Canada who are trying to adjust to a new way of life without the emotional and community supports they enjoyed back home, struggling with mental health can be alienating, especially in communities where discussing such issues is frowned upon. Mental health awareness programs such as Bell Let’s Talk Day become life savers for thousands of Canadians and newcomers suffering silently.

In 2019, Canada welcomed more than 300, 000 immigrants based on the following immigration categories:  economic, refugee, family reunification or humanitarian grounds. A 2019 Statista survey shows that 57.65% of immigrants arrived via the economic immigration stream, often with foreign college diplomas, university degrees, skills and experiences.

Once immigrants land in Canada, most do not immediately return to their line of work or maintain previous social status. More often than not, they are faced with numerous hurdles that make gaining meaningful employment seem insurmountable. Skilled immigrants lack labour market information, a professional network to tap into, Canadian work experience, or face language barriers.

Faced with overwhelming responsibilities many newcomers end up reluctantly accepting, as International Labour Organization (ILO) put it, any job instead of quality jobs and any work instead of decent work.” These low income jobs enable newcomers to Canada to put food on the table, pay bills and support family and extended family back home. This is why they are willing to lay their pride aside and settle for underemployment. As a result, situations like these weigh on their psyche and self-worth. They may face ridicule from friends here and back home. For example, an internationally trained doctor from Southern Africa may face ridicule on the fact that they spent 5 years to get a medical degree only to end up as a bus driver in Canada.

This results in the mental health of skilled immigrants stuck in underemployment suffering immensely. Stuck in underemployment, psychiatric and medical problems pose as a great risk. A Government of Canada survey states “recent immigrants experience better mental health than other groups” but it declines over time triggered by a buffet of socioeconomic factors that include “family income level, employment status, and education level at landing” This is truer for immigrants whose lives are modeled around communities. Being in a new country, with no immediate emotional and community support from friends and family, many end up struggling with the poor quality of life, low self-esteem, finance triggered stress and anxiety, drug abuse, depression to mention a few. Due to stigma associated with mental health issues, many do not seek medical assistance resulting in them suffering silently.

At Windmill we meet thousands of new Canadians every year and see the dramatic change they undergo. From the time they find us; having exhausted all other options they are dispirited and tired. Many are on the verge of giving up hope in getting back to their careers. To the time when they pay-off their loan having resumed their careers in Canada, they are proud and rejuvenated and are looking forward to a promising future.  It excites us and motivates us to do what we do.

However, we do not forget those who haven’t found us yet. Those whose dreams have not been realized. As one of our former clients, Asad Khan told us, “If you move to a new country where you don’t have any family members, where you don’t have any friends that you can rely on, you need a helping hand.” That’s why we support Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign as hopefully these people find the support they need to break their silence and shutter all forms of stigma around mental health.