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  • Writer's pictureProject Empower Circle

Dear Me - Look How Far You’ve Made It (By Sharon Shaji)

"Often we are kind to people around us, that we forget to be empathetic towards our own individual experiences" - Sharon Shaji

Mental Health in most immigrant households is not a common topic of discussion - not only is it the stigma but an added layer of cultural identity. We grew up in such different circumstances as kids. Most of us probably never admitted how challenging it was. As first genners we have seen the immigrant struggle of coming to a country like Canada and all the sacrifices our parents have made. Oftentimes, we don’t give ourselves the recognition of this happening during our key developmental years. As children we have taken on many different roles such as being the “responsible one” or the “peacekeeper.” So we put a band-aid over it and keep pushing forward. A lot of us were told to put on a “brave face”, “toughen up” while continuing to adjust to a new country. It’s a lot to unpack. What I wanted to remind anyone reading this is to be kind and empathic to YOURSELF. Often we are kind to people around us, that we forget to be empathetic towards our own individual experiences.

I wanted to take this opportunity to ask the following questions to two amazing women of colour (Carine Diverlus-Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) and Sandhya Narikuzy- MSc Candidate, Neuroscience) who are working in mental health spaces or studying it. Here’s what they said:

Why should black and brown first gen immigrants seek therapy?

“To help heal the old you, to hold space for the current you, and to honour the future you. As Black and brown first genners, we are so confined to the responsibilities, traumas, and survival mindset passed generation after generation. It is truly a privilege to even be liberated enough to consider therapy, let alone access it. But, we are simultaneously not liberated enough from the shackles of the violence and pain caused onto our ancestors, parents, and ourselves from this white supremacist society. In defiance of this society, in honour of our ancestors’ battles, and with love for yourself, allow yourself the space and support to break and heal generational traumas. Allow yourself to find love and joy in who you are and who you can be; allow yourself the peace and comfort of being supported, seen and heard.”- Carine D.

What’s your advice to first gen or immigrant children who want to seek therapy but don’t know how to go about it?

“I highly recommend finding therapists of colour for deeper cultural understanding. There are a couple of sites dedicated to listing therapists of colour, which makes the process easier. A few of these are and Therapy is highly financially inaccessible, but provides a great directory of low rate therapy options.

As you go about this process, some helpful things are:

  1. Check with your insurance company for coverage. Many of us aren’t aware that there is money just sitting there waiting to be used from school and/or work insurance! Take advantage of this resource to help in offsetting the cost, to make therapy more affordable for you.

  2. Allow yourself to take the time to try therapists out. Therapists aren’t a one size fits all. You will find that one person that really is your good match. Don’t be afraid to reach out to multiple therapists through their free consultations (usually offered) to get to know them and see if they would be a good fit for you. Don’t hesitate to ask them an abundance of questions about the process, their services, and how they can help you to know if they are a good match. Trust your gut as you choose. You’ll know what feels right. Even if you start off with someone, don’t be afraid to change therapists if you think that’s what would be best for you.

  3. Have a lot of grace, compassion and patience towards yourself as you go through this.

Healing isn’t a destination, it is a journey.” - Carine D.

What’s your advice to first gen/immigrant children who want to seek therapy but don’t know how to go about it?

“My advice would be to be kind to yourself. Honestly, acknowledging and accepting there are things which need to be addressed is a huge step in itself. It can be quite overwhelming finding the right person for you as well. One suggestion I have would be to write down a small list of qualities that you want your therapist to have – (e.g. a BIPOC female experienced with administering culturally sensitive therapy). Again, finding the courage to start looking for therapists is a huge step in itself and it can be overwhelming and that’s OK. Taking it one step at a time, while also reflecting on what you are looking for will eventually help you get there. Once you have reflected on what qualities you want your therapist to have, Psychology Today is a great resource to look into. This website allows you to choose a psychotherapist by filtering your options according to your interest, location, and budget. Note: Everyone’s journey to seeking therapy is different – it may take you a week or a few months before you find the right therapist/therapy for you. Remember, healing is a life-long journey. It’s okay to take your time. You will get there.” - Sandhya N.

Why should black and brown first-generation immigrants seek therapy?

“The first answer that comes to mind is because we are human. Personally, I believe everyone can benefit from therapy. However, since the question is specific towards two ethnic-minority groups I think it’s important to highlight the topic of minority stress here. Minority stress refers to a framework that captures the excess stress, discrimination, and prejudice that individuals face due to their minority status (i.e. gender, race, and ethnicity). Individuals who experience this distinct type of stress are often at higher risk for developing several psychiatric disorders and poorer health outcomes than non-minority individuals. Thus, in order to overcome the barriers these individuals face, we must understand why minority individuals experience this unique form of stress.

BIPOC individuals are exposed to several social factors – often referred to as social determinants of health – these include things like social economic status, access to health care, digital literacy, and location. Critically, exposure to these social factors can impact one’s health and well-being. Together, minority stress and social determinants of health reveal social inequities that BIPOC individuals face. Seeking therapy can benefit individuals who identify as a racial/ethnic minority by addressing their challenges and help build resiliency.” - Sandhya N.


This article was written and researched by Sharon Shaji. Find out more about Sharon here and here.

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