Skip to main content

Pandemic pressures can lead to increased instances of mental health challenges

It’s hard to believe sometimes how fast time has gone since my immigration journey started more than two decades back. Given how quickly time has passed, it’s quite a battle sometimes to get over the “aha moment” to acknowledge the fact that, despite being a first-generation immigrant, I was technically no longer a newcomer many years ago.

In fact, I even researched this term and came across a definition that “newcomer” is an umbrella term that includes various categories of immigrants or refugees who are born outside of the country and have been in Canada for a short time, usually less than five years.

Hitting the Reset Button

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much time has passed when faced certain difficult situations, almost like a “reset button” to get you to where it all started two decades ago. The pandemic was this “reset button” for me.

This past couple of years, particularly while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its long lockdowns, restrictions, and various impacts on work and social life, was a good reminder of the importance of maintaining a regular check on my personal, my family, and my friends’ mental health. Not surprisingly there was a notable increase in our stress, anxiety, and at times depression levels as a result of the pandemic.

Given the dramatic switch to us relying heavily on a virtual nature of communications (Zoom, Teams, etc.) regardless of our location, being in Halifax or a continent away in Egypt, I’m becoming suddenly irrelevant when being confined within my home’s four walls. This realistically could be anywhere in the world. I found myself increasingly drawn to a parallel virtual life back in Egypt where most of my family still lives, despite the fact I’m physically here in Canada. Perhaps this was my way to deal with the pandemic mental pressures, seeking refuge with my family overseas. We do vary in our tolerance levels and our response to challenges, or how adaptable we are to navigate mental health matters.

Personal Support Networks Important

Probably it was my personal reminder of why it’s so important to have a support network for immigrants and newcomers to help fill the void that often exists being new to a community, or far away from family and friends, particularly during challenging times.

A Statistics Canada article examining the mental health status and impact on Canadian immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic reported recent immigrants have fair or poor mental health more often than other Canadians. The mental health of more than half of recent immigrant participants worsened since the implementation of physical distancing, as well as instances of higher levels of anxiety symptoms due to being financially affected by the pandemic.

All of this is compounded by the typical non-pandemic mental health-related issues faced regularly by immigrants and refugees, such as the stress associated with the immigration and resettlement process, adapting to a new language, new jobs and economics, health care, education, religion, as well as individual and institutional bias, discrimination, and racism.

There is no standard, one-size-fits-all strategy to cope or deal with mental health pressures. You do what is right for you. Certainly, us being social beings, connecting with others and building a community is a good start, particularly with family and friends. Furthermore, do your best to stay healthy and take care of yourself physically. Exercise is proven to relieve stress alongside many other health benefits.

Most importantly, take care of yourself mentally. There is no shame in seeking out a friend’s help or counseling services. I admit, I did use all the help I could access during challenging times from family, friends, and professionals along the way and it made a difference. You can too!

Rany Ibrahim

Rany Ibrahim is a business strategy professional, communicator, writer, analyst, business workforce consultant, tech startup founder, and part-time university faculty. He also serves on various academic and professional boards. Rany is a member of the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, is among Atlantic Canada’s 50 most inspiring entrepreneurial leaders under 40, is a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards winner, and was recognized by the Nova Scotia House of Assembly for his contributions and community involvement. He is passionate about immigration, human rights, freedoms, and democracy.

Leave a Reply