Migration is a complex, multifaceted process that includes economic, political, psychological, social and cultural factors.

The process of adjusting to the new hosting community is defined by a range of situations that may cause stress, that are similar to grief, and have a common characteristic: ambivalence. The ambivalence is shown within the whole migration process. This adjustment is bio-psycho-social, and involve the three levels that configure human beings.

The higher the social support and success in migration process goals, the better the elaboration of the migratory grief is and, consequently, the better the adjustment to the new situation, and vice versa, will be. Migratory grief refers to the loss of massive and multiple links with physical, social and cultural environments due to frustrated expectations. These frustrations are the result of moving from a place with affective links to a new one where an individual must adapt and develop new affective links and relations.

Migrants often suffer from cognitive and emotional fatigue. It is caused by the effort that migrants make – acting permanently in a conscious and voluntary way – to understand the bases of the new culture and new roles. Sometimes, the culture of migrants is ineffective in the new context.

Regarding fatigue, psychiatrist Joseba Achotegui established the concept of the Ulysses Syndrome to describe the expression of chronic stress in migrants. This syndrome, not considered a disorder, implies a loss of an individual’s mental health and well-being and includes grief due to experiencing certain situations.

Migrants often find the main barriers in accessing mental healthcare are: language barriers and the resulting stigma. Regarding language barrier, few services are available in migrants’ mother tongues. Moreover, when translating information materials, it is important to consider migrants’ different conceptions of mental health.

mental healthcare for migrants

Concerning the stigma regarding mental health, it is deeply omnipresent in migrant and refugee communities. For many, having a mental health problem is the same as being considered crazy. In many cases, people with a mental illness are marginalised within the community.

To break these barriers and improve mental healthcare to migrants and refugees, a study by Wilder Research presents a list of recommendations that include:

  • Being familiar with the different cultural conceptions of health and mental health of migrants.
  • Having translators, interpreters, or cultural mediators as they become a language and cultural bridge between health professionals and patients. It is essential to train them in terms of mental health.
  • Collaborating with other health providers. It is important for general practitioners to be well coordinated with mental health specialists for referrals.

Wilder Research highlights different health care models for migrants such as psychoeducation, group therapies, home visits and medication. The negative impact of medication in migrants that have cultural conceptions that link diseases to spiritual causes should be taken into consideration.



Thao M. Immigrant and refugee mental health: best practices in meeting the needs of immigrants and refugees. Wilder Research, February 2009. Available at: https://mhpss.net/?get=250/Immigrant-and-Refugee-Mental-Health-Best-Practices-in-Meeting-the-Needs-of-Immigrants-and-Refugees-Snapshot.pdf

Tobar A. Una aproximación a las reacciones psicológicas en la migración. Flacso Guatemala, 2012. Available at: http://www.flacso.org/secretaria-general/una-aproximaci-n-reacciones-psicol-gicas-migraci-n

Sayed-Ahmad N. Proceso migratorio, diversidad sociocultural e impacto sobre la salud mental. Educació Social: Revista d’intervenció sòcioeducativa, 2013. Available at: http://www.raco.cat/index.php/EducacioSocial/article/view/267195/368950

Photo: H4G2 -Bolivia AE1. Available at : https://www.flickr.com/photos/hgr-/7905092852/