Immigrants face unique mental health challenges in the workplace delaying their inclusion and effectiveness – but support is available

Published October 1, 2021.

While mental health issues are common across Canada, with 21% of Canadian adults experiencing mental health difficulty, the challenges facing immigrants and refugees are as unique as the individuals themselves.

Many immigrants come to Canada with better mental and physical health than most Canadian-born individuals – this phenomenon is known as the “healthy-immigrant effect”. However, this advantage often disappears after years of trying to get established personally and professionally in Canada.

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) reports that when immigrants experience the stress of looking for a job or being underemployed, their mental health worsens. In the workplace, 41% of immigrants report high-levels of stress. This can be attributed to struggling to adjust to the Canadian workplace culture, lack of recognition from employers about their international experience or expertise, misperceptions around their skills or abilities and language barriers.

Anne-Marie Pham, Executive Director of the Centre for Canadian Diversity and Inclusion, says there are many challenges immigrants experience, some at the personal level, team level and some are systemic and organizational.

“At the personal level, there’s a sense, sometimes, of not feeling that you belong in an organization. From a team and organization perspective, there are instances of micro-aggressions or micro-inequities that diverse individuals may face in the workplace. These can lead to them feeling not accepted, that they are not understood and that there are certain biases, stereotypes or prejudices against them that are unfair.”

Pham indicates these challenges in the workplace can have a serious impact on mental health and lead to feelings of anxiety, anger, depression and worthlessness. 

Pham says taking action on mental health issues in the workplace – and the root causes of those issues – can be delicate and challenging for various reasons. If the source of mental health stress is the behaviour of a professional colleague or supervisor, this can make it difficult for an individual to seek support or assistance. They may fear the consequences of any action they take on their job security or opportunities to move up, professionally, within the organization. In remote work environments, unhealthy relationships with colleagues or unfair practices can foster feelings of isolation from other colleagues, affecting their mental health.

Pham advises individuals facing mental health strain at work to reflect carefully on what actions they’re ready to take or not.

“There isn’t a clear-cut solution because they have to understand where they’re at and whether they’re ready or not to address the situation,” says Pham.

If you are experiencing mental health challenges, there are resources that can help. Provincial governments and many immigrant settlement organizations offer mental health services. Many services are free, including options specifically for newcomers.

Links to some of them are listed by province below. *

A partnership between Windmill, Up With Women (UWW) and Rise, focuses on supporting newcomers with mental health challenges.

Across Canada – Resources for newcomers

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Northwest Territories

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

Yukon  

*Sources: Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre and Canadian Mental Health Association

Categorized in: Achieving Career Success, A Skilled Immigrant's Journey, A Refugee's Journey, Integration into Canada,