Newcomer mental health topic for early discussion – Winnipeg Free Press

Bushra Awwad remembers being sad and scared when she arrived in Canada in December 2016. Born in Syria, she, her parents and four siblings were forced to move to Jordan after the war started. They stayed there for five years before coming to Canada.

“I didn’t know how to speak and explain what I wanted,” Bushra, 15, said.

According to Seven Oaks Immigrant Services, a nonprofit that helps newcomers to the northwest region of Winnipeg, being able to talk about mental health early in their settlement journey is an important need for newcomer youth.

This was one of the main findings of two focus groups conducted by Seven Oaks with 20 newcomer youth.

The first group took place in the Maples area in February-March, with young participants from grades 8 to 20, mostly from India and the Philippines. The second group, in June, was organized in conjunction with Newcomers Employment & Education Development Services (NEEDS) Inc. and included participants in grades 9-12 from Syria, Iraq and Iran.

“One thing that came out from both groups is that they want to talk about mental health as soon as they come to Canada,” said Manpinder Dhillon, co-coordinator of the Settlement Workers in Schools program in Seven Oaks.

“It’s not something we have to wait for, it’s something we have to do right away, understand the terminology. Because a lot of them have never talked about it at home or it’s not there are no words in their language to refer to mental health or that it is considered stigma.

Bushra recalls that in Jordan, mental health was not discussed outside the home. Although she no longer feels the fear of her first arrival, she would like to learn how to support herself with various other emotions that may arise.

The focus groups gave young people an opportunity to share coping strategies, Dhillon says, including one Grade 11 participant’s unique idea of ​​keeping a think tank.

“At night before they went to bed, they would write something down, put it in the jar, and if they ever wanted to come back to it, they always knew where they could find it,” he said. “And they always thought about it when they needed something to pick them up or just see what had happened recently.”

This kind of creativity inspired Dhillon and program manager Jana McKee to think about how they could provide newcomer youth with additional mental health support. Ideas they are currently considering include offering a one-day mental health workshop that would include relevant terminology and distributing creative mental health kits with items such as paint supplies.

Although students reported a high sense of belonging to their school – 90% and above – Dhillon says they did not feel the sense of confidence to be able to share their mental health issues with teachers, fearing it would be shared with other teachers or their Parents.

Teachers are often the source of the problem, according to McKee.

“Students would say their teachers talk about mental health. But much of the stress or worry about students’ mental health is actually due to that teacher, the school, and the class. The pressures around it, whether from the education system or from family and friends,” she says.

“Students would often say, if teachers can talk about it, why can’t they actually start dealing with it? Why can’t they reduce the duties or why can’t they change them? »

In McKee’s opinion, more advocacy work is needed to better train teachers.

Bushra echoes that sentiment. Although she feels welcome at her current school, she did not experience this at her first elementary school in Canada.

Students would say “swear words” to her, Bushra said, but she didn’t tell the teacher. When she finally spoke, the teacher told the students to stop. Bushra says it’s important that parents and teachers receive more education on how to prevent discriminatory behavior toward newcomer youth.

The importance of having a “buddy system” in schools to provide support to newcomer youth was another important finding from the focus groups.

Although Seven Oaks has thought about it in the past, McKee says several young people bringing up the idea underscored its value. Some of the young people shared that they had benefited from this guidance structure when they started school in Canada and, in a few cases, remained friends with their boyfriend afterwards.

Once young people are further along in their journey, they may forget what it was like to be a newcomer, so this type of system can also foster empathy, encouraging them to take action to welcome newcomers. other newcomers, says McKee. Although some schools have this type of buddy system, in his view, further advocacy work is needed to encourage its implementation at all levels.

This story was written for the Winnipeg Free Press Reader Bridge in partnership with New Canadian Media

Jessica C. Bell