Editor’s note: This article mentions and discusses suicide.
The tragic death of a young Surrey man is bringing attention to the myriad of mental health struggles faced by international students trying to settle in Canada.
In September, 21-year-old Amrender Sandhu took his own life after suffering from depression.
Sandhu came to Canada from Punjab, India, in 2017 and studied at Douglas College. He lived in Surrey with roommates, but adjusting to a new country without the support system of his family back home proved to be extremely difficult for his mental health.
Sukhpreet Singh, Sandhu’s friend and fellow Douglas College classmate, helped set up a GoFundMe page in order to raise money to send Sandhu’s body back to India, where his family could lay him to rest. The donation goals for the GoFundMe have been met thanks to an outpour of community support.
Singh described his friend as a “very decent and innocent young man.”
“I am an international student too,” Singh told Daily Hive in an interview. “I have been through all the struggles. I know how international students feel when we have no one. It’s a struggle.”
Singh explained that the feelings of isolation and loneliness are all too common for many international students trying to settle in Canada. The pressures of balancing school and work while adjusting to a new life in a new country, oftentimes without family, is an emotionally taxing experience that takes a mental toll on many young newcomers.
Navigating these challenges during a global pandemic adds another layer of emotional stress.
Singh said that Sandhu’s family was planning to visit him in the spring but that they had to cancel their trip due to COVID-19.
“His family was supposed to come… He could have had his family,” said Singh. “[Students] need their family’s support.”
One Metro Vancouver-based organization is working to raise mental health awareness amongst Indian international students in Canada.
Team We Care is a volunteer-run organization created by students from Punjab who have now settled in Canada.
In the past year, the network has grown to include thousands of new students across Canada and focuses on helping them find jobs, accommodation, and mentorship opportunities.
Gurleen Sidhu is one of the organization’s founders. She told Daily Hive that Team We Care is now prioritizing mental health outreach because of the systematic barriers students face when seeking support.
“International students never really think of counselling [because] they think it’s really expensive and then they can’t afford $150 per hour for counselling,” Sidhu told Daily Hive.
“There are organizations that help with counselling, but people really don’t know about it. So we kind of act like a bridge to help them get counselling.”
Sidhu highlights that the pandemic has had a major impact on the well-being of international students.
“When the pandemic hit … students got laid off work. Some of them were not eligible for the CERB so they were not getting any income. Their parents back home [had] their work stopped because there was a lockdown in India as well,” said Sidhu.
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“So it was impacting everything, starting from their emotions to their financials. And we were hearing so many cases of mental health issues in students when the pandemic started.”
Sidhu says the pandemic has prompted Team We Care to add mental health support to its mandate.
Team We Care also ramped up its outreach to members following the news of Sandhu’s tragic death.
“Everyone who is coming to know about this news … everyone is sad about it,” said Sidhu.
“Because being international students ourselves, we know how hard it is to live here [because] we’re away from our family.”
Sidhu wants to make it known that Team We Care is a safe space for students to reach out for help whenever they need it.
“There are students coming forward to talk about mental health,” she said. “Anyone who needs mental health support, we are always here for them.”
If you or anyone you know is in distress, you can speak to:
- Crisis Services Canada: 833-456-4566/ SMS 45645
- Crisis Centre BC:
- Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
- Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789
- Vancouver Coastal Regional Distress Line: 604-872-3311
- Sunshine Coast/Sea to Sky: 1-866-661-3311
- Seniors Distress Line: 604-872-1234
- Online Chat Service for Youth: www.YouthInBC.com (Noon to 1am)
- Online Chat Service for Adults: www.CrisisCentreChat.ca (Noon to 1am)
Language Service: Both of the 310-6789 and 1-800-SUICIDE phone lines are available in over 140 languages using a language service. Let them know which language you require, and they will try and provide an interpreter.