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By Sumeet Dhami and Eden Debebe

Trigger warning: Some readers may find the contents in this article disturbing as it contains stories of mental illness and suicide. If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-833-456-4566  or texting 45645.

In the sixth part of the exclusive ‘The Canadian Dream’ series, OMNI News Punjabi covers the stories of four international students and their fatal battles with mental illness after moving to Canada.

Canada’s international student population has grown six-fold over the past twenty years, nearly tripling in the last decade alone. Ontario is by far the largest beneficiary of foreign students in Canada, hosting around 48 per cent of students every year; but this surge is not without adversity. In British Columbia, at least 15 international students committed suicide between the years 2013 and 2018, 13 of which were men ranging in age from their late teens to early twenties.

In Ontario – the province home to the largest portion of international students in Canada– there is no available data on the total number of student deaths over the past two years. However, OMNI News has independently collected information from South Asian community members and student groups. In these findings, at least 14 Indian international students died in Ontario from mental health related causes so far this year. According to experts, financial burdens, the COVID-19 pandemic, emotional strain and cultural dissonance are just some of the hardships young international students are facing on a daily basis, oftentimes alone.

 

Lovepreet Singh Gill

 

Born and raised in Charik village in Moga, Lovepreet Singh Gill came to study at Toronto’s Centennial College in 2018. According to family sources, the young man was so brilliant in his studies back home that he cleared the International English Language Testing System (ILETS) on his first attempt, even without any special training and having only studied at an Indian public school. Seeing as his academics were the strongest amongst his siblings, Lovepreet’s father sold their ancestral land and took additional loans so his son could come to Canada on behalf of their family.

According to a family friend, things started to go downhill just a few months after Lovepreet’s arrival in Canada. His father began to feel a change in his son’s communication, which was becoming more sporadic as the weeks went on. After another day of numerous calls being ignored, Lovepreet’s father asked a relative living in Canada to go searching for him. He was eventually found sitting alone in a local shopping plaza and burst into tears when he finally spoke with his father over the phone. Just a few weeks later on April 28th, Lovepreet ran away from that relative’s house and tragically ended his life by jumping in front of a train. Speaking with his friends afterwards, Lovepreet’s family discovered he had only attended classes for one semester before dropping out of college, at one point finding himself homeless and forced to live on the streets.

 

Rashpal Singh

International student Rashpal Singh was born in Malupota village near Banga, India. Coming from a poor family, and loosing his father at an early age, Singh’s mother took out a loan to send her only son to Canada in the hopes that he could build a better future for their family.

In April 2021, that dream was tragically cut short when Singh took his life by jumping in front of a train in Milton. Though his loved ones admit they will never know the true reason why he did it, they believe Singh’s struggles with mental health were a major factor in his death.

 

Harmanjot Kaur

Indian international student Harmanjot Kaur was renting a basement in Brampton with her cousin during her studies. Having lost her mother at a young age and being separated from her father, who’s health was steadily declining back home, Kaur’s cousin says she was already suffering from depression, and taking prescribed medication to help. Unfortunately, Kaur died in her sleep in late March. While reports said her death was due to a silent heart attack, her family worries about the impact mental illnesses had on her life.

 

Satindervir Gill

There have also been many reports of Indian international students suddenly going missing, without a trace. 22-year-old Satindervir Gill was born in Gausgarh village in Ludhiana and moved to Brampton for his studies. Peel Regional Police reported Gill missing in May 2020, after friends say he took an Uber to Niagara alone the night before. A year and a half later, Gill’s family and friends still have not heard from him. Peel Police confirm the investigation is ongoing.

 

The incidents covered in this article are not unique. Countless young – and otherwise healthy – international students from India have gone missing, committed suicide, or died in their sleep upon their arrival in Canada; leaving family and friends back home wondering what went wrong. According to a new report released by Apna Health, the multi-faceted mental health issues of international students have led many students down a dark path of drug addiction and gang violence. Psychiatrist and expert Dr. Gaurav Mehta says that in addition to stress, anxiety, and loneliness, the fear of failure can be a major factor under which even the most well-performing students will find themselves straying from their studies.

Over the past year, Puneet Aujla says he has seen numerous international students pass through the Brampton funeral home he manages, sending at least two to three bodies back to India each month.

“It’s a very scary and tragic situation when students at such a young age have to make such arrangements for their classmates,” Aujla said.

“For many of them, it’s the first time they’re seeing a dead body.”

For privacy reasons, Aujla could not share the full details on exactly how many funeral services have taken place for international students this year.

 

FINDING HELP

According to Dr. Mehta, there are many resources available to help international students going through mental health struggles including counselling centers at the universities or colleges they attend, advocacy groups like Apna Health, family doctors or even the local hospital. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) also has a number of mental health programs that support international students as well.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-833-456-4566  or texting 45645.

 

***OMNI News reached out to the Office of the Chief Coroner in Ontario who did not respond to an request for information at the time this article is being published.