COVID-19 and its Influence on the Mental Health of Newcomers in Canada
Authours: Sally Ogoe, Lori Wilkinson, Kiera Ladner, Jack Jedwab, Nikol Veisman and Jihad (Rosty) Othman
Location: University of Manitoba and the Association for Canadian Studies, Winnipeg and Montreal Canada
In Canada, newcomers, Indigenous peoples, and racialized Canadians have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 severe illnesses, death, job losses and higher incidence of mental health problems (Jenkins et al. 2021; Mashford-Pringle et al. 2021) than other Canadians. Access to healthcare has changed during the pandemic and influenced the mental well-being of many. Studies that examined mental health during the pandemic highlighted the importance of accounting for differences based on ethnicity and gender (Knoll and MacLennan 2017; Shah et al. 2020). Our study focuses on a gender-based analysis on the mental health of newcomers in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our study tracks self-reported depressive symptoms such as the absence of appetite, lethargy, restlessness, among others to provide empirical evidence about the effects of COVID-19 and the social distancing measures on newcomers.
The COVID IMPACTS project, spearheaded by the University of Manitoba, uses large omnibus surveys which are conducted periodically, about every two to four months. The survey asks detailed questions of roughly 8,000 participants, including newcomers, about their physical and mental health, job conditions, income and job losses, coronavirus diagnoses, vaccination intentions, and trust in government among others. Adults who are 18 years of age or older are eligible to participate in the study. We oversampled Indigenous peoples, those with migrant backgrounds (immigrants or refugees), and from racialized groups (BIPOC) in Canada, USA, and Mexico. The most recent survey was conducted in February 10 - March 10, 2022.
Our findings indicate that despite immigrants reporting more positive (76%) than negative mental health (20%), when the results are further analyzed by gender, we find that there are vast differences between male and female respondents. Immigrant women (20%) are more likely than immigrant men (16%) to report having depressive symptoms/feelings of hopelessness. Furthermore, when considering changes in mental health in early 2022, immigrant women are more likely than immigrant men to report having trouble falling asleep or oversleeping (27% versus 18%), feeling tired or lethargic (28% versus 21%), having a poor appetite or overeating (20% versus 15%), engaging in self-deprecation or doubt (19% versus 14%) and being fidgety (14% versus 13%).
How does this research apply to my work?
Our research supports a growing body of evidence showing that the COVID-19 restrictions exacerbated the existing racial disparities and experiences of newcomers. This information can help health, settlement and services providers assess how barriers and stressors impact well-being and importantly, recognizing the role that gender plays in the mental health of immigrants. We recommend service providers use assessment tools when working with immigrants and refugees, and if needed, use the information gathered to direct newcomers to the appropriate health services, such as counselling or other mental health support services.
What should I take away from this research?
The fundamental takeaway from our analysis is that the effect on mental health during pandemic, combined with other stressors is higher on immigrant women than men.
What are the future directions?
The research team intends to do the following:
- Differentiate between mental health self-evaluation and the depressive symptoms scale/questionnaire.
- Conduct a deeper examination into why women experience worse mental health status than men.
- Examine the effects of mental health on economic and social re-engagement for newcomers.
Funding: Canadian Institutes for Health Research Grant# 2020-448105 and VS2-175571