Immigrants sacrifice a lot for a peaceful life; the comfort of home and family, the feeling of familiarity, the life that they were born into. I was able to experience and witness this personally when I first went to Canada to pursue my undergraduate studies. I had a lot of high expectations pertaining to the standard to mental health over there because I had assumed that being in a first world country would offer people a lot of knowledge and resources on why their mental well-being is important and how they can take steps to take care of themselves.
What surprised me was, that despite the presence of all the resources, people shied away from admitting they could use help. I lived in a city where members of the South Asian community dominated which was why I was able to make this observation, and I was confused as to how everyone had something going on, yet they still carried on like nothing was going on. It was perplexing how some of them could go on without needing therapy or some form of guidance while the only reason I was able to get through the first year of my degree was because of therapy.
Coming from a desi community, mental health and ‘therapy’ are not words heard very often. Often synonymous with ‘common sense’, therapy is not considered as something that ‘normal people’ go to. It’s viewed as a treatment for the mentally ill, people with a clinically diagnosed mental disorder or people who don’t function ‘normally’. Because of this stigma, people are often scared from the idea of going to therapy and aren’t aware about the benefits it entails. What people refuse to see or rather are unable to see, is that what makes therapy therapeutic is the cathartic experience that comes with it. It’s so much more than just a treatment for mental disorders; it’s a journey of growth, exploration and healing. Something that new immigrants can make great use of to settle in their new world as well as something old immigrants can find solace in.
So here is why I think immigrants can benefit from therapy:
1. Unsettling settlements: While immigrants do move to a new place to settle down there, the process can be quite unsettling. There is a lot to explore, a lot to understand and the need to keep up with the new life. Figuring out the norms and lifestyles in a new place, with a possible language barrier can be rather distressing. Overwhelming emotions, frustrations, helplessness can easily take over which can affect a person’s mental health. It’s so important to talk to someone who can help navigate these rough patches and cope with this in a healthy manner.
2. Financial Burdens: It’s no secret that most of us have faced stress caused by finances in our lives. Because monetary goals and financial security are reinforcers that motivate us to constantly find better jobs, better ways to live our lives, we go through a lot to obtain them. To carry such a burden on top of immigrating to a new place is another way for stress, frustration and anxiety to settle in. To add on to the financial responsibilities, it can also be challenging navigating and exploring how the finance system works in another country which can also add on to the stress that comes along with managing finances. This way, financial stressors can contribute to poor mental health and have an impact on our daily functioning. (Yes, I realise the last thing desi people would want to spend their money on in the midst of a financial crisis, however there are many low cost and pro bono initiatives for mental health available that can be checked out! If they’re still resistant to seeking professional help, the most functional way to process and regulate such situations is to have your own version of therapy and find support where you can.)
3. Cultural Clashes: This can undoubtedly be very taxing on a new settler’s mental health. There is a lot that is left behind, a lot of what makes the immigrant who they are. It is conflicting to know whether or not, if at all, they should try to learn this new way of life or stick to their own roots. There is a lot that immigrants leave behind, but does their identity, their culture, their roots, have to be one of those things? It can be distressing working through this conflict as they try to figure out how to fit into this new way of life. An example from my personal experience is that, coming from the Eastern part of the globe, people value conformity as opposed to Western culture, where individuality is praised a lot. It can be hard trying to break free from that community driven mindset and be free to explore on your own when I have a lot of voices in my mind telling me “log kya kahenge? (what will people say?).”
4. Learning/Unlearning: To sum it all up, when you settle into a new place, there are a lot of things that you probably need to familiarize yourself with, a lot of things to be habituated to. At the same time, there is probably a lot of unlearning that could be taking place as well. Does unlearning norms from your origins or learning more about the new place to fit in mean betraying your culture, your roots in some way? I don’t think so. I think with the right help, people can find the right balance for themselves with which they can maintain and integrate these two parts of their lives. Moving to a new place does not have to mean giving up who you are to better fit in this new world. Sure, immigrants give up a lot, but their identity does not have to be one of those things. There can be quite a bit a lot of pressure with needing to fit in, especially if you come a culture with a community-driven mindset which places societal approval on a pedestal. But with the right guidance and support, the process of finding yourself again in a new place can become more manageable.
These are just a few (and general) of probably many reasons why immigrants should consider therapy. Starting over from scratch in a new place is a huge transition that is not easy at all. It invites a lot of stress, burdens, frustrations, and overwhelming emotions which can potentially lead to mental health problems.
Why not seek help before it gets too much to handle? Therapy is not just a treatment for people with diagnosed clinical conditions, but a journey of growth, exploration and healing. It allows you to have a safe, guided space to understand your emotions and know how to regulate them. And if you’re not in the place to seek therapy or are simply not ready for it, that is okay too! Just talk to someone who can be there for you and help you through that rough patch.