Migration and Mental Health

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mental health
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The world is grappling with the consequences of failed governments, as well as ecological and sociological concerns. These have given rise to an indiscriminate wave of international migrations that is ravaging populations across the globe and impacting negatively on their mental health. The situation is even worse for those who embark on illegal migration through very dangerous routes, such as the Mediterranean Sea.

Sadly, despite the physical dangers and mental health hazards associated with illegal migration, most migrants, mainly from Africa and other developing countries of the world, often throw caution to the winds, daring the odds to make their way to Europe and the Americas. Their goal, of course, is to find economic and emotional respite. Unfortunately, most of these journeys end up in a vicious cycle of depression and death.

Most migrants plying the illegal routes often fall into the hands of deadly syndicates which specialise in smuggling men and women to Europe through the Maghreb via the Sahara Desert, in what could be described as one of the most tortuous experiences on planet earth. These syndicates are also often involved in drug trafficking and could introduce some of the migrants to substance abuse, which alters their mental architecture. Thus, it must be understood that the business of illegal migration is a multidimensional one that requires a multidimensional approach.

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In some instances, the women among such migrants become victims of rape and other forms of sexual exploitation through which they are infected with all sorts of sexually-transmitted diseases. The emotional stress and psychological toll such experiences take on them are better imagined. Some of them end up with unwanted pregnancies which result in children with no paternal care and history. If such children are able to survive the odds, they grow up with broken identities and split personalities,  making them an additional burden to society.

Nearly all migrants plying the illegal routes tell the same story. They often give reasons, ranging from economic insecurity to persecution, war and natural disasters, as the bases for their decision to seek El Dorado in foreign climes. Hundreds of thousands of African migrants have crossed to Europe through very unthinkably harsh circumstances, using the inflated boat known as lapa-lapa from Libya through the Mediterranean Sea.

The problem with this form of migration is that it leads to the sad deflation of the migrants’ hopes and aspirations in the sense that the greener pastures they had envisaged eventually turns out to be a low and abysmal life in a refugee camp or at best in an asylum. At this juncture, many of them begin to regret ever embarking on the journey. It is from there that mental illness, especially depression, sets in. It is there that their once elevated expectations of grandeur become emotional cascades of broken dreams.

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Migrants in this category often experience suicide ideation, culture-conflict, social maginalisation, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other forms of psychological issues, which could lead to their deportation. In addition, migrants who are eventually deported to their native countries come back home mentally worse than they were before they embarked on their ill-fated journey. They often exhibit aggressive and nonchalant attitudes to life, behaving as if the whole world had offended them. Such persons need rehabilitation without which they would continue to trouble society’s peace.

According the World Health Organisation (WHO), “The prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tends to be higher among migrants exposed to adversity and refugees than among host populations.” To this end, the apex health body added that “the mental health needs of migrants and refugees should be addressed by organising inclusive and accessible promotion and prevention programmes; strengthening mental health as part of general health services; and ensuring timely diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.”

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For migrants who are recruited by politicians in West Africa to join insurgent movements, aimed at distabilising governments in some countries within the sub-region, their own spate of mental illnesses is even worse, compared to those of their peers who only want to migrate for economic reasons. This is so because of their access to small arms and sophisticated weapons and their involvement in armed conflict, involving bloodshed and the destruction of property. Memories of war scenes and their active participation in the carnage often take a debilitating toll on their mental health.

In addition to other legal or governmental measures that might be taken in handling such individuals, they also need the attention of clinical psychologists and experts in the field of psychiatry for them to be fully debriefed and possibly re-integrated into society.

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