Immigration and mental illness

10:07 am - April 30th 2011

by Guest    

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contribution by Richard Shrubb

Earlier this month, it was reported that a new study found Mexican migrants to the US were at a greater risk of depressive and anxiety disorders than their compatriots at home who did not migrate to the US.

One would assume that this would be the case, that someone moving from their home culture to another with all the stresses involved, would make the prevalence higher in the population of migrants than those either in the country they had moved from, or to?


Britain’s Dr Dinesh Bhugra has studied the field of immigration and mental health for some time. In a 2004 review of studies across all mental illnesses, he showed that the prevalence of all mental illnesses tends to be higher among the immigrant population than that of the host population.

For example, schizophrenia:

In a classic study, Odegaard (3) reported that the hospital admission rates for schizophrenia were much higher among Norwegians who had migrated to the United States than Norwegians who did not. He explained this increase on the basis of migration.

Bhugra showed the challenges to the study, which seemed to have failed in most cases. For example, the hypothesis that schizophrenia has a higher rate in the home country? Schizophrenia has a 1% prevalence across the human race, never mind specific cultures.

The same review showed higher suicide rates among New Zealand and UK immigrants to Australia. However, where general incidence of mental illness are higher, in Bhugra’s 2004 study of depressive illnesses, he showed that depression varies according to the immigrant group who are in the UK.

After standardization for age and gender, studies showed much higher admission rates for Irish and West Indian immigrants than for those from India or Pakistan.

The 2004 research showed that there is complexity in migrant mental health. Just because Mexicans get depressed in the US does not mean that Poles, for example, will be a drain on UK mental health services!

Though across all migrant groups, the stress of migration can lead to a higher rate of mental illness, this cannot be said with a broad brush.

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Reader comments

I am generally in favour of increased levels of labour migration between countries.

However, it is not wrong to state that an increased population size will, in general, lead to increased demand on services – such as healthcare, education, etc.

…and supermarkets.

As the migrant population is paying taxes, this shouldn’t be a problem.

However, in the UK we typically run a government deficit, even during economic good times, so if a service costs £100 to provide, we might only raise £80 in taxes to cover it.

That is where migration is seen to cause a problem – because WE don’t pay the full price for the services we use, and therefore strain starts to build up within the system. That strain is what leads to the nationalists etc claiming that migrants are a strain on the system.

Now, if we were to apply common-sense to our economics and balance the books – especially when the economy is booming as it was recently – then we can absorb as many migrants as there is spare land, because they (and we) would be paying in full for the services consumed.

Most people are not in favour of increased labour migration (or increased migration generally) and never have been across most demographic/political groups, including, amusingly, many immigrants. Debates on the subject often framed around the spurious notion that the pro-immigration side has nothing to prove, beyond pointing out dry statistics regarding whether immigration is economically beneficial or not, as far as we can tell, at any given moment. The longterm economic costs of immigration are often studiously ignored, downplayed while during the New Labour years particularly the economic benefits were wildly exaggerated.

Meanwhile, a conversation on the cultural impact or simply the desires regarding the majority of people’s wishes for the society they live in are at best ignored (“aggressive majoritism”), at worst painted in an extremely negative light (racism). I don’t want to go down this well-trodden path, but when I look at a comment like Ian’s I honestly can’t tell whether he is a lefty or laissez faire capitalist.

Even if it can be demonstrated that immigration is economically beneficial, this does not justify the notion that we must keep accepting immigrants “until we run out of space”.

Without doubt, the most fascinating account of immigrant psychological stress is the Hmong migrants to the US.

4. When Bells Chime Loud

“”he showed that the prevalence of all mental illnesses tends to be higher among the immigrant population than that of the host population.””

So they best stay home then! And not bring their ‘stress’ to my front door!

I love this. Immigration is unacceptable in the UK!

If we threw everyone of immigrant descent out of the UK we’d not even have farm animals on the islands as most of them are of international heritage. Let alone the Royal Family (that 28 million people fawned over the TV to watch on Friday). There isn’t a man, woman or child who isn’t of foreign descent in the UK, and it takes a small minded individual to complain that immigration is unacceptable at any level.

6. When Bells Chime Loud


Put them all up at your house then.

Let’s go back to the Mammoth to say we’re all immigrants. Nice ploy.

We have no room, no resources.
IF you want to come here and have a skill that helps us fine. If not. Fuck off.

And no one says immigrants who come here and actually do essential work, or fill gaps, and are here to fir in here are not welcome under controlled numbers.

But the FACT is…FUCKING FACT IS…many immigrants here have no skills, go straight on benefits, often get no job, have large families, barely speak English (if at all), have NO intention of REMOTELY fitting in, and burden local NHS and schools.
F U C K I N G F A C T.

PC cretin.

Richard Shrubb, all humans indeed possess genetic ancestors from other geographical locations. Obviously however, genetic heritage is not the only factor involved in determining whether somebody is an immigrant. Wikipedia defines immigration as “the introduction of new people into a habitat or population.” Of course it’s easier to adopt a tone of moral self-righteouness and insult your opponents intelligence with strawman arguements than it is to honestly engage with the them.

Richard Shrubb is correct that ‘we are all immigrants’, given that 15,000 years ago most of the UK was uninhabitable, being covered in tens of feet of ice. However, until the 1950s saw the start of mass immigration, there had been little immigration since the Norman Conquest. There were fewer than 10,000 non-white people in the UK before WW2, for example. The most recent genetic research implies that even taking into account the Saxon invasions, the overwhelming majority of the British people are descended from Iberians who moved North as the ice melted – which implies a historic continuity in these islands of maybe 10,000 years for the Native Brits.

“The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, after the melting of the ice caps but before the land broke away from the mainland and divided into islands. Our subsequent separation from Europe has preserved a genetic time capsule of southwestern Europe during the ice age, which we share most closely with the former ice-age refuge in the Basque country. The first settlers were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language but possibly a tongue related to the unique Basque language.”

To get back to the topic, the UK has quite enough mentally ill people as it is. I keep reading in the Guardian that half of all prisoners are mentally ill, so the condition seems to be associated with criminal behaviour. The last thing we need is to import more.

9. scandalousbill

Laban Tall,

You say:

“To get back to the topic, the UK has quite enough mentally ill people as it is”

I take it you are referring to yourself and When Bells Chime Loud.

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