The Psychological Effects of Migration on Adults

The search for opportunities and a better life in other countries often has a psychological cost. Indeed, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorders are common in these settings. In this article, we explore the impact of migration on adults.
The Psychological Effects of Migration on Adults
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 14 May, 2023

The psychological effects of migration on adults are diverse. They’re often associated with the migrant’s motivation to leave their country of origin behind. This phenomenon is driven by the intrinsic desire for better job opportunities, but also by social factors, such as violence, wars, and an ingrained lack of progress.

The condition in which the migrant arrives at their destination usually has an impact on their mental health. Those who are illegal immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers, are often traumatized. These are psychological conditions that, if not attended to, lengthen over time.

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark…”

– Warsan Shire –

The psychological effects of migration on adults

One of the most complex phenomena in today’s world is migration. Research conducted by Hacettepe University (Turkey) claims that, as a society, we should focus more on this reality. In fact, the impact on the mental health of the individual who migrates against their will is immense.

Books such as The Next Great Migration (2020), by Sonia Shah, claim that, in the coming decades, due to climate change, emigration will be increasingly common. This is something we’ve already seen in the animal kingdom. Migrants need to prepare themselves at all levels, particularly psychologically. Indeed, uprooting to a different setting and culture can be really hard.

Next, we’re going to explore the psychological effects of migration on adults.

You might also like to read Ulysses Syndrome: A Modern Problem

1. Mourning

Migration is a universal phenomenon. As a matter of fact, all our distant ancestors were nomads. Therefore, much of the way we are as a species now owes a great deal to migratory journeys. However, no matter how recurrent the phenomenon may be, people aren’t always prepared to emigrate. In fact, migration is one of the most complex and challenging changes that an individual can ever go through.

One recurring effect of migration is the migrant’s feelings of grief and the emotional pain that derives from everything they’ve left behind. After all, they’ve left their home, country, family, belongings, and personal history. Unsurprisingly, it’s an experience that involves dealing with many difficult emotions.

map to represent the psychological effects of migration in adults
Although the phenomenon of migration has always existed, in the coming decades it could rise.

2. Trauma

The University of Neuchâtel(Switzerland) conducted research on the topic of trauma and migration. They concluded that migrants often arrive in the new country suffering from several traumas. Moreover, these conditions tend to develop more in the new country. This is often the case among refugees. And, the fact of arriving at a reception center doesn’t make this process any easier.

As a rule, the origin of trauma is due to the following reasons:

  • Fear of being sent back.
  • Separation trauma.
  • Traumas due to personal losses.
  • Sexual abuse and/or violence suffered.
  • The pain of possible discrimination.
  • Experiencing dramatic events (war conflicts).
  • Adaptation difficulties.

If they don’t receive psychological assistance, the individual forced to migrate will carry the weight of untreated post-traumatic stress with them for years.

3. The acculturation effect

Acculturation is the change an individual or group experiences upon coming into contact with a different culture. It’s the kind of transformation that has different consequences. For instance, stress, emotional conflict, alterations in identity, customs, and ways of life, as well as the loss of ethnic pride. This can be extremely painful.

In effect, it’s a multidimensional field in which the migrant must adapt to various complex and stressful processes. Indeed, most of the time they must assimilate more than just a different language.

4. The effects of discrimination, racism, and xenophobia

One of the psychological effects of migration in adults originates from everyday discrimination. In many cases, this is inevitable. However, they’re never prepared for these damaging dynamics. And unfortunately, they tend to experience discrimination not only at work but in a multitude of social settings.

This hatred of the different (xenophobia) fueled by racism always hinders the inclusion process and endangers the mental health of the immigrant. Mood disorders are the most common.

5. Psychosomatic disorders

Psychosomatic disorders are physical symptoms caused or exacerbated by psychological factors. When an individual suffers from stressful situations sustained over time, they can develop these conditions. They’re states in which the brain, faced with alertness, suffering, and persistent emotional discomfort, manifests these problems in the form of various ailments. Here are some examples:

  • Ulcers.
  • Dizziness.
  • Allergies.
  • Headaches.
  • Hypertension.
  • Memory problems.
  • Musculoskeletal pain.
  • Changes in menstruation.
  • Digestive and intestinal problems.
  • Eczema, acne, hives, alopecia, etc.

You might be interested to read Depression in War Refugees

6. Existential crises

Profound changes jeopardize our beliefs, perspectives, and even our sense of the world and of ourselves. Therefore, one of the psychological effects of migration in adults can be a deep existential crisis. These are experiences in which thoughts and doubts constantly accumulate along with complicated emotions.

As a rule, an existential crisis associated with migration manifests itself in a constant lack of meaning. In addition, the migrant might experience the following symptoms:

  • Apathy.
  • Insomnia.
  • Feelings of emptiness.
  • Emotional instability.
  • Problems making decisions.
  • Not understanding the meaning of life.

We require better civic and ethical commitments to avoid discriminatory and racist behaviors. Otherwise, the mental loss suffered by those forced to migrate will be immense.

7. Major depression

Migrating is a process that doesn’t end when the migrant arrives in the host country. In most cases, integration and the search for job opportunities bring new mental challenges. Therefore, the challenge of adjustment is added to the inherent suffering of leaving home. This often leads to depressive disorders.

Indeed, major or severe depressions tend to occur in immigrants. In certain cases, these lead to behaviors such as alcohol addiction.

Woman doing psychological therapy to treat the psychological effects of migration in adults
We need to create better psychological care mechanisms for immigrants.

Interventions for adult immigrants

Ignoring the psychological and emotional needs of the immigrant population only impoverishes us. Migration is a recurrent multidimensional phenomenon that forms part of our DNA as a society. Thanks to our competencies as a society, we can develop programs to improve the mental health of immigrants. Here are some strategies:

  • Competent social and cultural services (such as translators) should be made available.
  • The specific needs and realities of each immigrant must be understood.
  • Psychological assistance (supported by medical interventions if necessary) should be provided.
  • Psychologists and social workers should partner with community organizations so they can get closer to the immigrant population.

In conclusion, emigration is often a traumatic process that intensifies upon arrival in the new country. If migrants aren’t assisted, they’ll carry a malaise with them that’ll completely govern their existence. We need to be more sensitive to their realities.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.