New Canadians often lack the vocabulary to describe their mental health, Surrey psychologist says

February 16, 2016

By Erin Ellis, Vancouver Sun |

It’s impossible to communicate without the right words and when it comes to mental health, new Canadians often lack the vocabulary to describe their inner lives.

That’s how Surrey-based psychologist Kamaljit Sidhu sees it and she’s delivering a talk in Punjabi this week in Surrey to press the point home. It’s part of a series of free public presentations from registered psychologists in Metro Vancouver this month.

The following conversation with The Vancouver Sun has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Why are you giving a speech in Punjabi?

A. Recent South Asian immigrants that I’ve seen don’t have the language, don’t have the understanding, to be able to explain what’s going on with them to family members.

There is still a strong reliance on a medical model for distress rather than understanding the psychological factors that could be at play.

They go to their doctors and say, ‘I have a headache, poor appetite, I can’t sleep, I’m angry all the time — give me something for that.’

Q. What’s wrong with using medicine?

A. Families might assume it’s a physical problem only. If people in society don’t understand that this person is having a mental health issue, they can make it worse.

In the case of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, if families don’t recognize the symptoms, instead of being supportive, they may respond in a way that delays recovery.

Q. What do you suggest?

A. What I say to my clients is we need to understand our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviours. Once we do that, then we can help other people understand what is going on for us. We can improve our relationships because we’re more effectively communicating our needs and wants — telling others how to support us to live as optimally as we can.

If people don’t have language to be able to discuss these points then these conversations don’t happen.

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