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Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being

Canada’s CMHA-YRSS launches Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being Service.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, York and South Simcoe (CMHA-YRSS) has launched an innovative program, Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being, to meet the unique mental health and primary care needs of immigrants and refugees in the area. The Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being program is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to the tune of $2.2 million and it’s designed to meet the needs of each newcomer in a personalized and comprehensive manner.

CMHA-YRSS says that its Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being will reduce reliance on Canada’s emergency departments.

Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being

According to CMHA-YRSS, the 2016 Census Release Report revealed that 47% of the population of York Region was born outside of Canada. York Region had the third highest proportion of immigrants in the GTA, with 51,410 recent immigrants settling there between 2011 and 2016.

“Research has shown that incidents of mental distress, depression, anxiety, and impact of trauma are significantly higher for immigrants and refugees, but settlement agencies and other providers report a lack of access to culturally appropriate, trauma-informed care”.

Funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and in partnership with Cedar Centre, settlement agencies and community care providers, the CMHA-YRSS program will seek to address this gap and improve mental health and well-being outcomes for immigrants and refugees aged 12 years and older.

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Canada’s federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said:

“Taking care of our mental health is extremely important for all Canadians, including newcomers and refugees. Many refugees have been through unimaginable trauma.  By providing settlement workers with mental health training, outreach and education, CMHA is ensuring that newcomers or refugees who may be suffering from depression, mental distress or trauma can feel safe and secure in knowing that mental health services are available to them as they begin their new life in Canada. On behalf of IRCC, I congratulate CMHA today for the launch of their innovative new program, Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being.”

Likewise CMHA-YRSS CEO Rebecca Shields said:

“I’m thrilled that support from IRCC is enabling us to launch this innovative and much-needed program. We know that migration and settlement can be a stressful and sometimes traumatic life event that comes with unique mental health impacts. We are always looking to identify the mental healthcare needs of our community and being able to increase culturally appropriate access to care means better health and social outcomes for individuals, their families and our community.”

Settlement agencies and community care providers will refer individuals in need of care to CMHA, with services to be provided at CMHA sites, local Welcome Centres, and other community locations convenient to the newcomer. Services will include a comprehensive mental and physical health assessment, counselling/psychotherapy, psychoeducation, health promotion, training/education, consultation, and coordinated care, provided by a nurse practitioner, clinical therapists, and program coordinator. Those in need of trauma-specific services will be referred to Cedar Centre.

Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being

The Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being program is expected to reduce reliance on emergency departments, police, and other crisis services through system capacity building and education provided to those who work directly with newcomers, early identification and intervention and improved access to care.

Critically, the Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being program will improve health outcomes and the social inclusion of immigrants and refugees in the community, by providing culturally appropriate mental health awareness and education and supporting clients to navigate the healthcare system and receive ongoing support.

Brenton Diaz, Clinical Coordinator and Therapist at the Cedar Centre said:

“The Newcomers’ Health and Well-Being Program fills an important gap in York Region by offering holistic services to promote health in culturally-appropriate ways, honouring the strengths of our Newcomer/Refugee communities. This unique Program provides vital support to our Newcomer/Refugee communities to help better their lives through an unprecedented and unified partnership of agencies and sectors.”

Patricia Cousins, CEO for Social Enterprise for Canada and a Lead Partner for Welcome Centre Immigrant Services in York Region said:

“CMHA is a strong new partner within the Welcome Centre system. The five principal partners are excited to bring this agency’s expertise and support to newcomers in York and Simcoe Regions.”

According to information on, the immigrant population in northern York Region, South Simcoe and the surrounding area has been steadily increasing for several years, creating a larger need for cultural supports.  The following information is directly from

To address that growing demand, the Newcomers Health and Well-being program was created by the Canadian Mental Health Association York Region and South Simcoe (CMHA-YRSS) to meet the unique mental health and primary care needs of immigrants and refugees in the area. 

Through the program, CMHA-YRSS will work with the settlement sector to provide culturally appropriate training, with the goal of reducing reliance on emergency departments, crisis services, and police.  

“The big piece here that we want to stress is the program offers supports in a culturally appropriate manner, so I think helping other professionals out there understand and learn about the different ways mental health can manifest across cultures is key,” said Kylee Goldman, CMHA-YRSS Newcomers Wellbeing program manager.  

“Across individuals, mental health looks very different and also across cultures, people express stress, anxiety and sadness in different ways.”  

The program helps educate the people who facilitate settlement services about what mental health issues might look like amongst newcomers. 

Its goal is to move support services away from being reactive towards something that’s more proactive – aimed at early intervention instead of relying on emergency services when a person reaches their breaking point.

The Newcomers Health and Wellbeing program is offered throughout South Simcoe and in York Region, where 47 per cent of the population was born outside of Canada. 

Incidents of mental distress, depression and anxiety are significantly higher for immigrants and particularly refugees who are often fleeing from conflict.  

However, much of the time, those newcomers aren’t getting the care they need. Settlement agencies and other service providers generally lack culturally appropriate or trauma-informed care, but work to change that is now underway.  

“People who pick up their lives from one country and move here to start a new life for themself, there’s a lot of loss,” Goldman noted.  

“The family would have been their main source of emotional support, so to not have them around can be really difficult to navigate the cultural differences and potential language barriers, as they try to meet new people and find out where they can fit into the community,” she continued.  

“There’s a loss of culture and loss of language and communication, so I think that that is one of the main things I do see.” 

Individuals who are migrating to Canada often have a lot in common and somewhat of a shared experience.  

“A lot of people coming to a new place, everything in society is so very different, the way that people grocery shop, the types of food that people can buy.” 

“They can’t find the items they normally cook with to nourish themselves, so, in so many aspects of people’s lives… they experience the stress of being a newcomer in a place that is so different from their own home.” 

An important part of becoming more proactive with refugee and immigrant supports is making sure they are aware of the services available to them, Goldman explained.  

“We want them to know where they can get support and be well, that there’s options available right now, so that if and when, later on they do decide they’re not doing well and need the support, they know where to go to access those supports,” she said.  

The program is designed to give immigrants the tools they need when feeling overwhelmed, at a loss or alone, while building connections.  

“Really, the idea of the program is to promote a sense of community and belonging for each and every person and to validate the experiences they are having,” Goldman explained.  

“Hopefully we can give them a sense of hope, that they can create the life they are hoping for here, that things will feel more comfortable with time.” 

Going forward, Goldman said the CMHA-YRSS anticipates government funding for the program over the next five years and hopes to see it grow from here.  

“We are working as an organization to, as much as possible, establish a very well-rounded program and look at ways for future sustainability, so that the program can be maintained and can continue to evolve,” she noted.  

“Looking at part of that can lead to expanse, partnerships, and relationships with other community organizations.”  

“We’re also looking at outreach to faith-based communities to community centres, so looking at broadening our partnerships with other community agencies to build the program and make sure that bridges are there to keep it going.” 

See also Healthcare for newcomers to Canada.