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How New Canadians Can Maintain Mental Health

Fulfilling a dream, or a need, of moving to Canada can be filled with mixed emotions and feelings. On the one hand, there is the excitement around building a new life, raising a family, starting a new career, studying and many other reasons for coming to this country. But those emotions can also be wrapped up with fears, questions, concerns, and an overall lack of knowledge about the place you are calling home. These are normal feelings and can be overcome with time and patience.

Everyone questions new beginnings and, although moving to a new country might be bigger in scale than other new beginnings, it posses many of the same mental health and wellbeing questions. Questions can range from simple things like getting a driver’s license, or more involved issues like acquiring a Social Insurance Number or navigating the healthcare system. When it comes to the immigrant population, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) says overall, newly arrived Canadians are better equipped and have better mental health than the Canadian-born population. Refugees are generally at higher risk for mental health issues than immigrants.

Home Life

Outside of the workplace, the Canadian government has set up settlement services that can offer support in areas such as:

  • Providing information about your community
  • Connecting you with local people who can help with your transition
  • Providing non-clinical mental health and well-being support
  • Referring you to community health services

You can find a settlement service office in your area here.

Separate from its employer guidelines, the MHCC offers something called The Immigrant and Refugee Mental Health Project, which provide online training tools and resources around settlement, and access to social and health service professionals working with immigrants and refugees.

In extreme cases of refugees who have fled persecution or terror, for example, the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture provides confidential assessments with psychologist and family doctors, has crisis intervention, family counselling, and more. Their website can be reached here.

Financial Life

Feeling safe and secure in your new home means securing your financial wellbeing. It’s one thing to come to a country perhaps without speaking the language or having a network of people to assist. It’s another to stress over the financial implications of your decisions. The good news for new Canadians is that the federal government provides certain benefits to help offset costs and help ease your transition into the Canadian financial system.

The Canada Child Benefit is a service offered to all Canadians (new and old) to help offset the cost of raising kids. If you have children under the age of 18 who live with you, you can collect a payment for them. This can make a big difference to you and the life of your children upon entering the country. For more information on the Canada Child Benefit, click here.

Another benefit is the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) credit. The credit is a tax-free payment that is meant to help low and moderate income Canadians offset taxes paid on goods and services. Also, each province and territory offer different benefits for their citizens. You can find the different offerings here.

Most banks and financial service institutions, like Scotiabank’s StartRight™1 program offer services to support immigrant and newcomers to Canada set up and maintain financial services. Through the program, newcomers can enjoy no-fee international money transfers2, a chequing account with no monthly fees for the first year3, credit cards4 and specialized mortgages.

Before you get to that stage, you should know that you have certain rights as a newcomer about opening a bank account. For example, even people who don’t have a job, don’t have money to put in the account right away, and have been bankrupt before; have the right to open a bank account. There are also certain things to consider prior to opening an account such as what ID you might need (if you are not yet a citizen). The government of Canada offers information on these topics.

Work Life

There are many reasons to come to Canada. One popular and very important one is for work. Whether you are a labourer, executive or somewhere in between, navigating work-life balance, understanding cultural nuances, and staying mentally healthy after such an important transition, demands attention.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is tasked with helping employers create and maintain healthy workplaces. It has created a voluntary set of standards and guidelines that are there to help you as you enter the workforce. The vision behind it is: “A workplace that promotes workers’ psychological well-being and allows no harm to worker mental health in negligent, reckless, or international ways.”

Don’t feel ashamed to ask your manager or supervisor about the support your new company offers, especially in a stressful transition. Even before accepting your job and moving, you can make inquiries about company policies and resources that will assist you should you need the extra mental health help.

Other things to consider that will make your job-hunting (or beginning) smooth and less stressful is preparation. You’ll need things like a Social Insurance Number and to see if your employer, or new adopted country, recognizes your education or qualifications.

Your New Life

All the tips and tricks for maintaining your mental health when adopting Canada as your new home require patience but also effort on your part to ensure your transition is a smooth one.

It can be quite jarring to be in a new environment but it is certainly normal to feel anxious and even confused in your new home. Take the effort to reach out to organizations like cultural centres, or places like the YMCA Newcomer Information Centre, or the Centre for Immigrant and Community Services, for example. Organizations like that can provide lessons about Canadian culture, customs, beliefs and values. Taking that effort and meeting new people will make that connection easier, and help you build relationships with others who may be experiencing what you are facing.

Also, stay connected with loved ones from your home. Support can come from many places, and a friendly, familiar face can be just what the doctor ordered to stay rooted in the things that still feel comfortable. Don’t forget that mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, by joining a gym, or finding people to take walks with, or any number of activities that suit you, goes a long way in maintaining a healthy mindset as well.

People who settle in larger cities may have more opportunities and resources at their disposal, although organizations are spread out throughout the country to aid new Canadians. For example, in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, the Canadian Mental Health Association provides a list of resources for people experiencing a mental health crisis in that area, but also has 330 community locations nationwide.

Overall, settling to Canada, like most things in life, is a journey. You may be experiencing the cold weather for the first time, or new faces and cultures, or simply you miss your home and question your decision to relocate. In some cases relocation is not even a choice if you are fleeing persecution. In any event, Canada is a welcoming, multicultural country that has the resources, desire and social infrastructure to not only welcome new Canadians, but also help them thrive under difficult circumstances.

Remember that by coming to a new country and settling here, you’ve taken your first step on that journey. That’s the biggest step you’ll take.

This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as financial, tax or investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific financial, investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.

1 Scotiabank StartRight Program, created for Canadian Permanent residents from 0–5 years in Canada, International Students and Foreign Workers. This program includes no monthly account fees for the first year3 on the Preferred Package account, and unlimited Interac e-transfer fee rebates5.

2 Foreign currency exchange rates apply. A transfer needs to be made from an eligible Scotiabank Chequing or Savings account.

3 Eligibility: To qualify for the 1-Year No Monthly Account Fee Offer (the “Offer”), open a new Preferred Package account under the StartRight Program (the “Account”) [Employees of The Bank of Nova Scotia (“Scotiabank”) and individuals who are currently or were previously holders/ joint holders of a Scotiabank chequing account within the last 2 years are not eligible for this Offer.
How this Offer Works: During the first 12months, your monthly Account fee will be waived and will not appear as a charge on your Account. The Account must be open and in good standing at the time of the waiver. All applicable service charges on the Account will continue to be applied monthly. After the first 12 months, you will begin to see the monthly Account fee charged to your Account unless you maintain a minimum daily closing balance of $4,000, in which case the monthly Account fee will be waived per the Account terms and conditions. This Offer is non-transferable and cannot be combined with any other offers. Maximum one Offer per customer. All rates, fees, features and benefits are subject to change. Offer may be changed, cancelled, or extended at any time without notice.

4 Subject to credit approval. To be eligible, you must be a participant in the Scotiabank StartRight Program. To qualify for a credit card, you must be a resident of Canada and the age of majority in your province/territory where you live. Your approval for a credit card and the credit limit assigned will be determined based on Scotiabank’s credit criteria, including your verifiable income and credit history (If available). The credit limit amount of up to $15,000 under the Scotiabank StartRight Program is subject to change by Scotiabank from time to time without prior notice. A credit history in Canada is not required in order to be eligible for a credit card under the Scotiabank StartRight Program.