Migration means moving from one place to another. To migrate can mean moving from an urban area to a rural area (from the city to the countryside). However, typically migration refers to the phenomenon of moving country. Between 2000-2017 around 25 million people from sub-Saharan Africa left their countries of birth for new destinations abroad. In fact, in 2000, Africans accounted for 9% of all migrants worldwide. Migration impacts the continent in many ways, but this article evaluates the possible psychological consequences of migration for individuals who choose to migrate.
Reports show that migrant groups suffer from poor mental health. These issues can be a consequence of many practical factors. For example, migrants may find it difficult to gain employment. They may be separated from their families and support systems. They may have been forced to flee their country due to conflict, or persecution. Individuals may even be genetically predisposed to suffer with a mental illness, which might be brought on by their migrant status.
However, many experts believe that the act of moving to a different place, with a vastly different culture is traumatic in and of itself. Regardless of the difficulty of the journey and the new trials of life abroad, migration alone can cause psychological disturbance.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MOVING
Most migrants move with a hope of achieving better lives. They are willing to endure long, risky journeys to achieve a dream (to support their families, be successful, or to gain an education etc.). However, this ideal vision is often met with a degree of disappointment as the reality of moving countries is far more difficult than might have been anticipated.
Sometimes, migrants succeed practically. However, the loss of cultural norms, a shared language, religious customs and social support systems means success is hard to share. Typical symptoms are described as dreaming of the past, feeling guilt about abandoning homelands, as well as feeling stricken by unexplainable anxiety. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and many migrants thrive in their new homes.
AN UN-HELPING HAND
In recent years, the plight of migrants has worsened. Despite the media’s focus on human rights and migrant desperation, communities are becoming increasingly protectionist (looking after their own before others). This means that migrants can sometimes feel unwelcome in new homes abroad. In Europe, anti-immigration political groups are expanding, alongside anti-immigrant sentiment. Skilled workers are favoured over others for entry as migrant unemployment increases. Legal migration is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in an administrative sense.
Without sufficient preparation, migration can be daunting and alienating. The benefits of migration may outweigh the psychological risks. Moving might be worthwhile, particularly as unemployment increases in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, Africa’s vibrant culture and the unique hopes attached to moving can mean individuals feel incompatible within a new environment. Overall, it is important to weigh these factors and to understand the often unrealised consequences of changing home.