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The Summary Report of the "Empowerment" Mental Health Conference for International Students

Updated: Mar 2, 2022


On November 13, 2021, Mental Health Revitalization ran its first ever mental health conference to raise awareness about the lack of accessible mental health resources available to international students on campus. It was a great opportunity to learn from leaders in the mental health field and hear about the experiences of international students.




If you missed it, click here to watch the full video recording and access the live transcript.


Our first keynote speaker was Dr. Tayyab Rashid. Dr. Rashid is a licensed clinical and school psychologist who works at the Health & Wellness Centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough. For more than 15 years, Dr. Rashid’s practice and research have focused on the application of positive psychology concepts to clinical concerns including especially with young adults from diverse cultural backgrounds and with trauma survivors. You can learn more about Dr. Rashid and his work on his website, www.tayyabrashid.com, or on LinkedIn @tayyabrashid.


During Dr. Rashid’s presentation, Understanding Yourself & Your Anxiety: Strength-based strategies, he discussed COVID-19 related stressors (e.g., health concerns, social isolation, and uncertainty), the different types of anxieties, behavioural shifts, and how to better identify our strengths. It gave participants the opportunity to identify and connect with their strengths and learn more about coping mechanisms targeted to COVID-19 pandemic-related stressors.


We then had a panel discussion led by Dr. Jennifer Davies. Panel speakers included Althea Fernandes, Shreya Kumar, Cynthia Schoppman, and Ansh Anand.


Dr. Jennifer Davies is currently the manager of the Academic Advising & Career Centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She has worked in career services for students and newcomers since 2007. She also finished her Doctorate in Counselling Psychology in 2019. You can learn more about Dr. Davies and her work on her LinkedIn @jenniferldavies, or on her Twitter @jendaviescareer.


Althea Fernandes is a Registered Psychotherapist in Ontario. She is also the CEO of The Confident Therapist which aims at helping Canadian professionals in the field of mental health who are just starting their career to feel more confident in their work. You can learn more about Althea on her website, www.theconfidenttherapist.ca, or on LinkedIn @altheafernandes.


Shreya Kumar is a Neuroscience graduate from the University of Toronto. She currently works in youth advocacy and has conducted research on understanding the unique mental health needs of young South Asian Women. You can learn more about Shreya and her work on her LinkedIn @shreyakumar1.


Cynthia Schoppman is a Registered Psychotherapist who works out of St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario. She completed her master’s degree in Counselling and Spirituality from St-Paul University and also completed a post-graduate diploma in Couple’s Counselling. You can learn more about Cynthia and her work on her website, www.feelingbetter.ca, or on LinkedIn @cynthia-schoppmann.


Ansh Anand is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus with a specialist degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and was an international student. He is currently a sales analyst at IAG handling products like Constant Climate-Cold Chain Product for British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Air Iberia.


The panel discussed the current limitations of mental health services available to international students pursuing undergraduate and graduate education. Some of the important topics it highlighted were mental health literacy among international students, the lack of mental health resources targeted specifically to international students, and how current international students can cope with many of the unique stressors they experience on a day-to-day basis.


The second keynote speaker was Dr. Andrea Levinson. Dr. Levinson is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She is also the Director of Psychiatric Care at the Health & Wellness Centre at the University of Toronto. She currently works at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health as a staff psychiatrist. You can learn more about Dr. Levinson and her work on LinkedIn @andrea-levinson.


Dr. Levinson’s presentation titled, Campus Mental Health: The 2021 Context and Beyond, discussed the most common mental health needs of emerging adults and post-secondary students, why mental health and psychiatric services for youth are increasingly needed on college campuses, and the emerging challenges on campus in terms of practice, policy, and research. It also looked at some of the mental health themes found among international students relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Our third keynote speakers were Shambhvi Sharma and Emily Springgay.


Shambhvi Sharma is an Expressive Arts Therapist and a Crisis Support Worker at Punjabi Community Health Services, where she offers supportive counselling and assists clients with their settlement process in Canada. She provides low-cost individual and couples therapy at the Create Clinic for Expressive Arts Therapy. Shambhvi is also a student in Social Service Work at Sheridan College. You can learn more about Shambhvi and her work website, www.anandtherapy.ca, or on LinkedIn @shambhvi-sharma.


Emily Springgay is a Master of Education student in the Counselling Psychology program at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Emily is an Expressive Arts Therapist who offers low-cost individual and couples therapy at the Create Clinic for Expressive Arts Therapy. She also runs weekly drop-in arts-based mindfulness workshops through OISE/UofT’s Office of the Registrar and Student Services. You can learn more about Emily and her work website, www.emilyspringgay.com, or on LinkedIn @emilyspringgay.


Shambhvi and Emily’s presentation, Expressive Arts Therapy: Connecting to Home Through the Arts, discussed the need for art therapy in contemporary mental health services, and how it can specifically cater to the mental health needs of international students. Emily and Shambhvi guided participants through various art-based therapeutic exercises to help the body better express its emotions.


Our fourth keynote speaker was Dr. Jiali Shang. Dr. Shang is a senior independent associate of LegalShield promoting affordable legal services to ordinary people. She is currently a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, an adjunct professor at York University. Dr. Shang is also a Canadian representative serving in the GEO Capacity Development Working Group of the United Nations. You can learn more about LegalShield ww1.legalshield.ca or connect with Dr. Shang on her LinkedIn @jiali-shang.


Dr. Shang’s presentation titled, Reaching Out to Combat Depression: Protect & Empower by Legalshield, was a great opportunity for participants to learn about depression, the unique experience of international students, how to find support or support others in times of need, as well as teach people about the benefits of lawyers during times of need. Resources about affordable lawyers and law services were also shared with participants.


Our fifth and final keynote speaker of the day was Ambrose Jing. Ambrose is the Director of the Professional Development Department at Aestus Future. They provide career counseling services and run career training programs. Specializing in the health and research industry, Ambrose believes that mental health matters for everyone to reach their full potential. You can learn more about Ambrose on their LinkedIn @ambrose-jing.


The topic of Ambrose’s presentation was about Intake of the Mental Health Industry, which discussed strategies to cope with stress in job searching and career development in today’s job market. It gave participants the opportunity to discuss current market trends in the mental health space, as well as connect with others in the mental health industry.


Overall, the conference was a great opportunity to learn about the unique challenges international students face when trying to access mental health services.


Thank you to all of the speakers, panelists, and participants for attending this event!


Visit our website, mhrontario.com, to be notified of future Mental Health Revitalization events and conferences. You can also find us on Instagram @mhr_uoft or on LinkedIn @mental-health-revitalization.

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