First language counselling helps newcomers tackle COVID-19 stress

Newcomers in Calgary are sharing their problems and concerns around COVID-19 and learning news ways to cope, all in their own language.

Newcomers talk about their problems in online workshops

John Marquina, a second generation Canadian, is a mental health therapist who hosts an interactive workshop organized for Filipino newcomers by Immigrant Services Calgary. (Submitted by John Marquina)

Newcomers to Calgary are sharing their problems and concerns around COVID-19 and learning news ways to cope, all in their own language.

A recent Statistics Canada study shows immigrants are more likely to be stressed out about the economic and social toll of COVID-19 than other Canadians. The agencies and organizations that help them are finding news ways to stay connected and provide the services they need.

One way to lessen that stress is the comfort and clarity of receiving counselling and advice in their own language. It's something they say makes a big difference in talking freely. Workshops aren't possible in person yet, so online Zoom sessions are filling that void.

"They can express body language, gestures, idioms they can use to express how they're feeling. That's the biggest thing that helps when we use our own language in counselling," said John Marquina, a second generation Canadian, masters in counselling practicum student and host of an interactive workshop organized for Filipino newcomers by Immigrant Services Calgary.

Marquina says Filipinos, along with other groups, are struggling with mental health, financial worries, job security, isolation and missing family abroad — and in some cases issues like addictions and domestic violence.

He says being able to talk about those problems in Tagalog, the Filipino language, is a huge help, giving people a chance to express themselves freely while receiving advice and stress-management tips.

"We provide education about what stress is, what factors are and our body and how we react to stress. Also, what strategies we have in the Filipino culture to handle stress, especially at this time," said Marquina.

"This provides culture-specific and culturally sensitive help for Filipinos in Canada," Marquina added. "It's to bridge the gap and remove the stigma around mental health in the Filipino community as a preventative measure to help Filipinos succeed in their lives in Canada."

Immigrant Services Calgary was one of the first agencies in the city to move services online after COVID-19 hit. 

"The way that services like these are being offered online, accessibility is important for people to be able to attend," said Colyn DeGraaff, director of communications and marketing for the agency.

DeGraaff says they will also use the workshop as a fact-finding and research mission to better understand the Filipino newcomer experience.

DeGraaff says the organization will hold workshops for other groups in other languages in the future.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: or tweet him @DanMcGarvey