Mental Health and Migration

The challenge of mental health in migrants

The migration process represents a powerful source of stress

By: Cristina Pou Matarranz, Psychiatrist

Article taken from the page Mental Health 360

Migration represents the movement of people away from their usual place of residence, either across an international border or within a country, with the intention of establishing a new temporary or permanent residence in the place of destination.

This process supposes for the person an extra effort to adapt to a new environment. Migratory currents have been produced since the origin of humanity and have been increased with globalization.

The migration process can be divided into various phases: pre-migration (the person decides to migrate and organizes a plan for it), migration itself (physical displacement), post-migration (the person adapts to the new environment).

According to the psychiatrist Pou Matarranz, it must be taken into account that not all people who migrate live the same experience, nor do the societies that receive them respond in the same way.

However, the process of migration and subsequent sociocultural adaptation plays a fundamental role in people’s mental health.

The relationship between migration and mental health is complex and dynamic. The migratory process involves immersion in a new culture and in itself represents a set of stressful factors that can affect the mental health of any person subjected to such a situation: forced separation from loved ones, language barrier, change of habitual place of residence, loss of social status and marginalization, perceived discrimination, labor and economic precariousness, among others. The discomfort for people is greater if the cultures (origin and recipient) are very different from each other.



The expert points out that migration represents a powerful source of stress that is related to mental health problems in the person who suffers it. Within this process, there are a series of risk factors that make people more vulnerable to suffering from some type of mental disorder: previous mental disorder, unplanned migration or for political reasons, traumatic experiences, being a minor or elderly, Post-migration role strain (the person does not have the resources to develop the new role assigned to them).

To this is added that sometimes the health system does not adequately recognize these situations or offer the necessary care, assuming a new source of stress for the person.

For example, in the case of minors and adolescents (a particularly vulnerable group), it has been shown that exposure to violence during the migration process is a key risk factor for suffering a mental disorder, while stable settlement and social support in the host country have a positive protective effect.


Within the field of mental health, the symptomatic expression of mental disorders and the response to treatment vary depending on the culture of the person.


Pou Matarranz emphasizes that cultural differences are associated with different ways of understanding health and illness, as well as with their own way of expressing discomfort.


It is well established that, in order to provide culturally competent care, we must be familiar with the beliefs, values, and practices of the populations we serve, in order to prevent errors and be able to offer the best possible care.

Cultural competence is intended to be a solution to the barriers (social, communication, political, gender) that prevent a person from receiving quality care.

Migrants are not a homogeneous group, and neither are their needs, their social and health vulnerabilities, and their resilience.

In addition, migrants with mental health problems form a double risk group, with the possibility of suffering stigmatization and social exclusion.

Finally, Pou Matarranz concludes that the evidence shows that recognizing all these factors contributes to a better understanding of the problems inherent to migration and to developing strategies for prevention, health promotion and a comprehensive approach according to the needs of the people we serve.

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