Free mindfulness, counselling and mental health workshops help Albertans cope with COVID

·3 min read

The Immigrant Education Society is encouraging stressed out Albertans to take advantage of its free offerings — which include online mindfulness and mental health workshops — as well as virtual and in-person counselling sessions.

The initiative is funded by the City of Calgary and the provincial government.

These programs were originally only offered to frontline staff in newcomer serving agencies before the pandemic hit. But realizing the widespread impact of COVID-19, the agency reached out for additional funds to expand the programs provincewide.

"COVID is affecting everybody. It's not only the immigrant population," said Suman Khanal, program director with The Immigrant Education Society (TIES). "People are suffering, people are losing jobs. People lost their income. They've been stressed out, kids sitting at home, they have other family-related issues. So it's for everybody."

People must register for these programs in advance.

The mindfulness sessions run every Friday. The mental health workshops run Tuesdays to Fridays, and topics include building mental health resiliency and healthy thinking habits.

The counselling sessions are open to individuals, couples and families.

Mental health counsellor and instructor John Wang said he hears a range of issues from participants.

One of them is the inability to cope with many different family members living under the same roof for extended periods of time, which he said can lead to conflicts and sometimes can escalate to domestic violence.

He said financial worries due to job loss are common, too.

"There's also certain anxiety and the stress associated with not knowing what's going to happen tomorrow or the next month. So what is the lockdown going to look like?" Wang said. "What is the housing situation going to look like? So those uncertainties do build up the level of distress in our clientele."

Wang said these courses help people understand their emotions and behaviours, which can then relieve tension.

Change your focus

Calgarian Iris Hua said COVID has taken away many of her social interactions. She misses her Sunday dinners with her four adult children and she is tired of all the video and phone meetings.

The tax accountant has been working from home since April.

"Which is different than every day when I go to work in the office. I have a tea, a coffee and say, 'Hey, how you doing, how's your weekend?'" Hua said. "Nothing like that anymore, so it's difficult."

A few weeks ago, she discovered these workshops and has already signed up for four.

She said she's learned to focus on herself and the way she feels, and not to let the little things get her down.

"Instead of starting a day with, 'Oh, I spilled my coffee,' I focus on all the positive things, and that's how I start my day, and it makes it really more productive and happier," Hua said.

The agency is tracking some data to see how these services are helping people.

Early indications show it's making an impact, Khanal said.

"We don't know the data yet, but what we can say is that because of the mindfulness and mental health sessions, clients' stress levels are reduced," he said.

"Even their hospitalizations and the doctors' visits have been reduced significantly. However, we don't know the data until the project is completed."

The programs have been funded until August 2021.