How can you improve your mental health as a newcomer?

This World Health Day, we hear from Mazhar Iqbal, one of our Settlement workers based at our Burnaby office, about how he works to support the mental health of his clients.  

Before coming to Canada, Mazhar had a long career in medicine, having worked in Pakistan, Oman and Libya, so he understands the importance of good health.  

Fluent in seven languages, Mazhar left his home country of Pakistan due to the political instability and violence there and came to Canada to find a safer future. 

Although Mazhar was unable to restart his career in medicine in Canada, he has found ways to use his expertise in his current role as a Settlement worker at ISSofBC. 

One of these ways is working to improve the mental health of the refugee clients he works with daily.

What challenges do refugees and other newcomers face in BC? 

From Mazhar’s experience, the most common challenges newcomers experience when they arrive in Canada are: 

  1. Housing 
  1. Employment  
  1. Mental health difficulties 

These challenges are more difficult for those refugees who speak little English and have low digital literacy as finding the correct information is difficulty. 

This is why Mazhar’s work is so important. As an ISSofBC Settlement Worker, he works with refugees to explain the different services available to them in Burnaby and other areas of Metro Vancouver and refer them to different organizations who can support their needs. 

For example, in Burnaby, Mazhar recommends the following mental health support services: 

  1. Burnaby Community Mental Health and Substance Use Centre (Phone – 604-453-1900) 
  1. NewToBC – Crisis Support and Culturally Appropriate Counselling 
  1. MOSAIC’s Newcomers and Community Building Program  

If you need help understanding the services available to you in your local area, contact our settlement team by email: or by phone: 604-684-2561 

Building trust and openness with clients 

Mazhar says that talking about mental health is not easy for clients and refugees.  

For many, there is often a cultural stigma around discussing personal challenges and mental health difficulties.  

However, Mazhar also knows that good mental health is very important to help newcomers learn, work and thrive in British Columbia.  

This is why he focuses on developing strong relationships with clients, assessing their mental health, and treating them according to the severity of the case. 

Mazhar does this through patience, empathy, active listening, validation, and creating a safe, welcoming and casual space so clients feel comfortable discussing their mental health.  

By following the SMART approach and speaking in their first language, Mazhar and other Settlement workers are able to support refugee clients to slowly improve their mental health through small improvements in their daily lives. 

What services and activities can improve your mental health as a newcomer in BC? 

Mazhar recommends several ISSofBC programs and actions that can improve the mental health of refugees and immigrants. These include: 

  1. ISSofBC Conversation Circles: 

Our Conversation Circles are a wonderful way to practice your English and make friends with other newcomers. They are organized by our volunteer coordinators and are available in-person and online across our offices: 

Contact to learn more 

  1. ISSofBC Multi-Cultural Youth Circle: 

In this program, young newcomers can meet other newcomers their own age, learn about Canada and go on group trips to explore Metro Vancouver. 

Trips include learning about local Indigenous history and going on hikes.  

Want to learn more? Contact:  

  1. ISSofBC’s Moving Ahead Program (MAP): 

If you have limited English or would like special support to understand your community and different services in your local area, MAP can help! 

The program gives you personal support and guidance by coming with you to open bank accounts, access the library or use the transit system in Metro Vancouver. 

MAP services are also available in multiple languages, so our MAP workers can better understand your challenges and how we can support you. 

To learn more about MAP, contact:  

  1. Self-care – Be kind to yourself 

Being a newcomer is very stressful. You receive a lot of information when you first arrive in Canada and it can be overwhelming, especially if English is not your first language. 

Mazhar says it is very important to make time for‘self-care’, and to find time to do things you enjoy. ‘Self-care’ is different for different people, some people like to listen to music, others like to exercise or meet friends, but it is important to enjoy yourself and relax. 

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