By Dr. Astrid Escrig-Pinol
Last fall, the United Nations World Mental Health Day’s theme was “Mental Health in an Unequal World”. Mental health inequities, locally and globally, clearly reflect poverty and disparities due to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. By highlighting inequality, the World Federation for Mental Health underscores the need to address discrimination and inadequate quality in mental health services, worldwide.
A population group disproportionally affected by poverty and discrimination are international migrants in low-paid jobs who experience a higher risk of social isolation and often face structural barriers that prevent them from accessing mental health services. At the same time, families left behind in their countries of origin face emotional and social challenges resulting from the need to restructure relationships and roles when a central actor in the family unit is absent for prolonged periods of time.
Family separation is a common result of many regulated and unregulated migration pathways. Obstacles to move as a family are much more common for families at the lower end of the socio-economic range, who move out of dire need with limited rights and mobility, than for those at the higher end of the income scale. Imposed family separations are a source of suffering for so-called transnational families. Clearly, migration is a family affair that has consequences not only for those who move, but also for those left behind. The mental health of migrants’ left-behind children, parents, siblings, and extended family members is inevitably affected by the coming and going of their relatives. By broadening our focus from the mental health of migrants to the mental health of transnational families we can understand how inextricably connected they are.
To effectively address the impact of migration on the mental health of people on the move, in particular low-paid workers and their non-migrating families, we need to look beyond national borders and think in terms of transnational public health research, programs, and policies.
Astrid Escrig-Pinol, PhD
Associate Professor, ESIMar (Mar Nursing School), Universitat Pompeu Fabra,
Research Associate, SDHEd (Social Determinants and Health Education Research Group), IMIM (Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute), Barcelona, Spain