Immigration can be a very exciting, yet daunting time. It can feel very overwhelming, with all the challenging processes to navigate through and sometimes the anxiety associated with it can feel immobilising. Whether you have decided to leave your current country for better career prospects, improved healthcare and safety, a better future for your family and/or your children or just because you are tired of the weather, immigration comes with an entire range of emotions and psychological processes all of its own.
Mental Health and Immigration
One of the many factors that seems to get overlooked during immigration is mental health. In fact, there are very few studies that focus on immigration and mental health.
Elshahat, Moffat & Newbold (2021) state that immigrants are at increased risk of mental health issues due to various economic, cultural, and social factors. These include, but are not limited to, difficulties accessing health care and social services, feeling isolated, racism as well as differing employment opportunities and conditions. They go on to state that it’s important to understand these mental health issues in countries where migration is key to population and economic growth (Elshahat, Moffat & Newbold, 2021) such as Australia and Canada.
Immigration, Grief, and Loss
One of those mental health challenges, that often as a society, we do not talk about is the grief and the loss associated with immigration – migratory grief. Sometimes finding support for this grief can be challenging. Supportive family and friends may tell us to focus on the gains, to focus on the positives, the “bigger picture,” the reasons why you want to leave your birth country in the first place. Which, whilst certainly helpful, may unknowingly invalidate our current feelings of loss. The loss of our favourite coffee shop, the loss of the smell of a certain flower or fragrance and not to mention the loss of family and friends. Then there are family and friends that think that we have made the wrong decision, that we are not doing what is right for our families and are angry at us for leaving them behind. Obviously, we often don’t feel supported by them, and this can compound already difficult feelings.
Yes, with technology, it is easier. We can pick up our mobile phones and our family and friends are just a minute away. With Facebook and Instagram and all the other social media apps we can take a sneak peek into our families and friend’s lives. But somehow, it’s not the same. It’s different from a hug or a kiss on the cheek. Physical affection and connection are an important part of our existence as humans.
Grief is a difficult emotion to process, often fraught with sadness, anxiety, and despair. The anger may come and go in waves too. These are all normal emotions to experience and part of the process. Grief is unfortunately not a linear process either, it comes and goes in waves, and you may experience anger then sadness, then feelings of acceptance and back to anger and sadness again. Migratory grief is complex and multilayered and involves the loss of your cultural identity and feelings of displacement (Blanco, 2023).
What can I do to help myself?
There are a few strategies that can help you during this difficult time:
- It is important to acknowledge and accept your feelings. Journalling your process can assist in doing so,
- Mindfulness – being aware of how you are feeling in the here and now and not how you should be feeling or used to feel. Talking to someone about how you are feeling can also be helpful,
- Sometimes seeking the services of a professional (psychologist, counsellor and\or social worker) is helpful and can assist you in managing your emotions during a very difficult and overwhelming period of adjustment,
- Build your resilience. Resilience is your inner ability to cope in the face of adversity. All the above can assist you with this,
- Kamal Sharma also suggests exploring yourself in the new environment and culture, do not just stick to what you know and who you know. Immerse yourself in new traditions, people, and experiences (Blanco, 2023),
- Get involved in a club or activity (team sport) in your local community (Blanco, 2023).
Dr Baleta can assist you with processing your grief, whether it be from immigration, a death, divorce or just a change of circumstances. She also provides psychotherapy for individuals struggling with any form of adjustment and adjustment disorders.
Author: Dr Pauline Baleta, MA Psychology (UJ) Cum Laude, PhD Psychology (UP)
Dr Pauline Baleta is from South Africa where she was a fully registered senior clinical psychologist for the past 15 years, until she immigrated to Australia in April 2023.
To make an appointment with Dr Pauline Baleta try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 .
Blanco, C. (2023). What is migratory grief? Can migrants ever overcome their sense of loss and displacement?
Obtained from the World Wide Web: https//:www.sbs.com.au
Elshahat, S., Moffat, T. & Newbold, K.B. Understanding the Healthy Immigrant Effect in the Context of Mental
Health Challenges: A Systematic Critical Review. J Immigrant Minority Health 24, 1564–1579 (2022).