Inevitably, underemployment has an impact on newcomers’ mental health, but it also has broader implications. For World Mental Health Day, Yilmaz Dinc, Research and Partnerships Specialist, looks at the connection between decent work, immigrants’ mental wellbeing and the economy.

Newcomers arrive in Canada with a clear physical and mental health advantage[1] over people born here – but this effect does not last. Since the early 2000s, research has repeatedly shown that the health of immigrants deteriorate as they spend more years in Canada.[2],[3] They become more likely to report depression over time, and are more vulnerable to mood disorders.[4] Various factors have already been uncovered as to why these happen – such as lack of sufficient access to healthcare and the changes they experience through moving countries. [5]

What is less talked about, yet, is the influence of work in this equation. Having an unstable or insecure job worsens mental health, along with overall health.[6] And between 2011 and 2017, around 37% of the workers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are estimated to have worked in such jobs to some degree.[7] With this in mind, it is not surprising that immigrants are among the most vulnerable to health challenges – they make up 46.1% of Toronto’s population.[8]

In fact, the effects of our actual work on our mental health are likely greater than the impact of our working conditions. The International Labour Organization highlights that decent work is actually a form of aspiration in our professional lives – everyone seeks productive work, empowered decision making and personal growth opportunities.[9] Because they face more barriers to realizing this aspiration, it can be much more challenging for immigrants to maintain a sense of mental well-being.

The mental health status of newcomers might have broader implications too. The deteriorating mental well-being of Canadians already costs the country around $51 billion annually. This is not unexpected – mental illnesses mean lower productivity, a decrease in quality of life and a steep increase in healthcare spending.[10] This cost will only go up if immigrants continue to be unemployed and underemployed.

In order to build a rewarding career, it is imperative that newcomer professionals find employment commensurate to their experience and skills. TRIEC works with partners to help unemployed and underemployed immigrant professionals, who have arrived in Canada recently, to realize their employment goals. At TRIEC, we recognize that the connection between stable and fulfilling work and the mental health of newcomers might be stronger than initially thought.



[1] Known as “healthy immigrant effect.” See Edward Ng, 2011. The healthy immigrant effect and mortality rates. Health Reports, 22 (4).
[2] Zoua Vang, et al., 2015. The Healthy Immigrant Effect in Canada: A Systematic Review. Population Change and Lifecourse Strategic Knowledge Cluster Discussion Paper Series, 3(1), Article 4.
[3] Anam M. Khan, et al., 2017. Socioeconomic gradients in all-cause, premature and avoidable mortality among immigrants and long-term residents using linked death records in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Epidemiol Community Health, 71, 625-632
[4] Kwame McKenzie et al., 2016. The Case for Diversity: Building the Case to Improve Mental Health Services for Immigrant, Refugee, Ethno-cultural and Racialized Populations
[5] Guillermina Jasso, et al., 2004. Immigrant Health-Selectivity and Acculturation. National Academy of Science Conference on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health.
[6] PEPSO, McMaster University Social Sciences, United Way Greater Toronto, 2018. Getting Left Behind: Who gained and who didn’t in an improving labour market.
[7] ibid
[8] City of Toronto, 2017. 2016 Census: Housing, Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity, Aborginal peoples.
[9] ILO. Decent Work, Accessed September 5, 2018,–en/index.htm
[10] CAMH. Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics.