Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation online program
- Audience: Settlement, social, and health service providers
- Population of Interest: Immigrant and refugee populations
- The Need: In a recent study by Statistics Canada it was reported that the mental health of more than half of recent immigrants has worsened since the implementation of physical distancing.
- What's Promising: The "Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation" online sessions were planned to support immigrants and refugees during this difficult time and to provide practical tools to manage stress and worry.
- Key Takeaway: It is important for organizations to be flexible in their service delivery and to actively reach out to clients.
Juliana Pelinsom Marques, Coordinator, Newcomer Community Wellness Program, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia writes:
Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation is an online session created to address the mental health of immigrants and refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the current situation, it is more important than ever to focus on taking care of yourself. This situation is stressful for everyone and it is important to normalize the stress and worry.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be experienced in many different ways, including feelings of depression, grief, fear, panic, stress and anxiety, which can be normal responses to situations where day-to-day routines are disrupted, and circumstances are uncertain and perceived as potentially risky. In a recent study by Statistics Canada, it is reported that the mental health of more than half (52%) of recent immigrants has worsened since the implementation of physical distancing. The "Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation" online sessions were planned to support immigrants and refugees during this difficult time and to provide practical tools to manage stress and worry.
The "Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation" session also raised awareness about mental health and the need to cope with stress and anxiety during this and other difficult times among clients. They asked for more sessions, and then the Online Wellness Support Group was created. It has already been 6 sessions, and clients are happy to have a safe space to talk about their emotions.
In addition, the initial idea was to deliver only the "Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation" group session to different groups of clients. A list of vulnerable clients was developed, and they were individually contacted by an interpreter and invited to the session. We noticed many of them didn't feel comfortable with technology or didn't possess resources/equipment to partake in the session. We then offered to talk with them individually. This individual session was crucial, and many of them ended up being referred to other Mental Health service providers in the community, as they were experiencing a high risk of developing mental health disorders.
In the “Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation” online session, clients learn about:
- The impact of stress on the body, family, and relationships
- Healthy strategies to cope with stress
- New tools, habits, and resources for navigating uncertainty, including stress reduction exercises
- Services and resources at ISANS and in the community that can support and address individual issues
- A few practical tools used during the sessions include the following: grounding techniques (such as check-ins and five senses exercises), worry management techniques, gratitude exercises, mental health continuum checklist, planning/finding balance in their routines, breathing techniques, and positive self-talk.
Here are some tips for other service providers who may be interested in implementing a similar model:
- Sessions of Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation were offered to immigrants who can communicate in English (CLB 4 or higher) and also to language specific groups, with the presence of an interpreter (Example: Arabic group).
- Sessions in English took around 1 hour to be completed; the sessions targeting language specific groups with the presence of an interpreter took around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
- The sessions were delivered using the ZOOM platform, and the facilitator engaged clients with questions and encouraged comments, using their own microphones or the chat box. The possibility of sharing ideas and comments, and even making questions throughout the whole session were extremely important to the success of this initiative.
- It was noted that this online session was useful for normalizing stress and mental health, besides creating rapport and trust with the facilitator. Some clients even contacted the Facilitator later on looking for one-on-one support
- When reaching out to clients inviting them to the sessions, a few of them mentioned to not feel comfortable with online sessions (many due to lack of computer literacy or equipment) and asked to be seen one-on-one. They were interested to talk about their stress and learn new tools to navigate this difficult time – just the invitation to the sessions was enough to open the door to the mental health discussion with the Wellness Coordinator, who then delivered one-on-one sessions remotely over the phone.
- The sessions with CLB 4 or higher group were so successful that it became a bi-weekly Online Wellness Support Group, where the Wellness Coordinator leads discussions on how to balance clients’ emotional wellbeing. These sessions started with the attendance of 8-10 clients, and after 4 sessions, our numbers have grown to over 20 clients per session. Some examples of topics discussed in this group are Routine During Self-Isolation; How to keep your kids busy (and learning) during the COVID-19 pandemic; Self-Compassion; Goal Setting, The Mental Health Continuum; Mental Health Resources in the Community.
For more information, we have a website for the overall Newcomer Wellness Program. The "Living Well in Times of Self-Isolation" online group sessions are part of this program.