Supporting immigrants’ mental health

October 21, 2019

By Canadian HR Reporter |

Today is World Mental Health Day, when global efforts are made to raise awareness about mental health issues in all areas of life. Our workplaces have a major impact on our mental wellbeing, and for immigrants who may be in Canada without a strong social support system, experiences at work can hold even greater sway.

When they start out, newcomers to Canada actually have a mental health advantage over people born here, according to a 2011 report from Statistics Canada. But these happier, healthier times don’t last.

The longer immigrants reside in Canada, the more likely they come to report depression and mood disorders, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada in a 2016 report. With a lack of professional networks, along with credential-related barriers, newcomers often take on work far below their skill level.

These experiences in the job market can exacerbate the risk of decreased mental wellbeing, but to what extent?

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) recently conducted a poll of nearly 100 professionals in the GTA to help answer this question. And the results are stark: 74 per cent of both recent and longer-term immigrants polled reported experiencing “high levels of stress” during their job search. Immigrant women were more likely (77 per cent) to report this than immigrant men (68 per cent).

Unfortunately, stress does not end once a job is secured for immigrants. Two-fifths (41 per cent) of those polled experienced “high levels of stress” when employed. It is much worse for women, who were more than twice as likely to experience stress because of their work (52 per cent), compared to immigrant men (20 per cent).

Immigrant women face greater barriers in the job market overall. Across Canada, the unemployment rate for university-educated, working-age, newcomer women stood at 12 per cent last year. Though that figure has seen a decline in recent years, it is still a startling contrast with the unemployment rate for university-educated, working-age men born in Canada, with the same level of qualifications: 3.2 per cent.

What can be done to help? Employers can take a lead in addressing the systemic labour market barriers that cause immigrants to suffer particular strain. Research by the Institute for Work and Health released in 2019 makes clear that working conditions, such as job security, autonomy and social support, have a significant effect on mental health.

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