Mental Health Matters
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Through our awareness raising campaigns and activities, IOM often works with returned migrants, or returnees, to reach out to communities and peers. When doing this, we should be aware of one important thing: mental health.

Promoting returnees’ mental health, and that of their families and communities at large is vital to empower people to (re-) build a creative and positive life plan taking advantages of the migration experience. Raising awareness on the mental health and psychosocial challenges of the “return migration” creates the optimal conditions to support this process of reinstalling psychosocial wellbeing.

In this blog we’ll explain what mental health is, why returnees’ psychosocial wellbeing matters, and share the benefits of mainstreaming a psychosocial approach into awareness raising activities.

What is mental health?

World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to contribute to his or her community.

You should keep in mind that mental health does not mean the same for all people, and the way people express feelings of wellbeing or distress are contextually and culturally grounded.

How does return migration impact psychosocial wellbeing?

The migration process generally brings changes in the identity which is a central concept of the psychosocial wellbeing of both individuals and groups. Identity defines who you are, how you perceive yourself and the world, how you are perceived by others such as your family, friends and community members, how you build your own relations, and how you have interiorized social and cultural values. 

One’s sense of identity and psychosocial wellbeing might be challenged during the ‘return journey’. For some returnees, being back home may be a bittersweet experience fraught with a multiplicity of emotional, social, economic and cultural challenges.

This often happens when return is associated with the idea of failure of an individual (and/or collective) life project, a broken dream or the result of difficult decisions. When coming back home, returnees might face stigmatization, rejection or discrimination by peers, family members and community at large. This takes a toll on their psychosocial wellbeing. It is therefore vital to address these issues.

What can you do?

Focus on two essential things throughout your interventions. First: recognize individual needs for psychosocial support and orient towards appropriate services. Second: mainstream psychosocial topics into your awareness raising strategies.   

A good strategy is to work at the community level in addition to providing individual and targeted support. Indeed, families and communities can create a sense of belonging and safety, may offer protective, restorative and transformative support, promote acceptance and resilience which in turn may support the re-establishment of a sense of wellbeing. This video below, produced by IOM Ghana, highlights the importance of having any member of the community involved in improving the psychosocial well-being of returnees.

Keep in mind five important reasons on why mainstreaming psychosocial topics is important and can make awareness raising activities more impactful:

  1. Improve mindfulness of what happens in the heart and mind of returnees.
  2. Develop inclusiveness and positive attitude towards returnees by counteracting potential stigma.
  3. Foster mutual understanding and acceptance.
  4. Facilitate empowering ways of bottom-up psychosocial support and build more supportive community networks.
  5. Prevent and promote returnees’ psychosocial wellbeing.

This article was written by Gaia Quaranta, IOM Regional Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Officer for West and Central Africa. Gaia has supported the 13 partner countries of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative in building strategies for migrants and other beneficiaries to deal with mental health issues.

Article cover photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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