01 December, 2023

Addressing the mental health needs of migrants and refugees

Graphic showing the globe with footprints in random patterns across it, next to text reading "The Mental Health of Migrants" and the St Patrick's Mental Health Services logo

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) focused on identifying and responding to the mental health needs of migrants and refugees at our annual Founder’s Day conference.

With migrants and refugees living in Ireland facing a number of challenges, particularly over the last number of weeks, Founder’s Day 2023, which took place on 1 December, heard from a range of experts, including those with lived experiences. Speakers at the half-day conference explored how migrants’ and refugees’ mental health may be affected by migration, highlighting relevant research and discussing appropriate responses.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are one billion migrants globally, of which 281 million are international migrants and 26.4 million are refugees, with the experience of migration being noted as a key determinant of health and wellbeing. Refugees, asylum-seekers and irregular migrants are highlighted as being in need of special protection and support. Evidence also shows that migrants and refugees can be exposed to various stress factors which affect their mental health and wellbeing, before and during their migration journey, and during their subsequent settlement and integration.

Conference speakers

Safa Kharita, who fled from Syria in 2013 with her family, and Jennifer Chipa, a mental health peer advocate who came from Zimbabwe to Ireland to seek asylum, both shared their journeys of migration as part of the conference, outlining how these experiences impacted their mental health.

The keynote address was delivered by Professor Craig Morgan, Professor of Social Epidemiology at King’s College London, who discussed the prevalence of mental health difficulties among migrant populations, highlighting key research in relation to mental health presentations in the migrant population.

Speaking of the Founder’s Day conference and the changing trends in migration, Professor Morgan said: “The migration of people across international boundaries, whether in search of more prosperous lives or fleeing war and persecution, has accelerated in recent years."

"Multiple studies have found high rates of mental distress and ill-health among many migrant and ethnic groups. We need to know more about the underlying reasons for these trends to better inform social policy, public health and mental health service responses.”

“Changing trends in migration, such as the increasing rates of migration and the increased diversity and origins of migrants moving to single countries, presents an ongoing challenge for mental health policy and for the provision of services. This year’s conference from SPMHS presents a timely opportunity to explore the extent and variations of mental health difficulties among migrants and refugees, and to discuss how services can ensure they are more responsive to the needs of ethnically and culturally diverse populations.”

Other expert speakers scheduled for the conference include:

  • Dr Pieter Ventevogel, Senior Mental Health Expert with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who spoke about lessons learned about the mental health of refugees from low resource settings
  • Nick Henderson, Chief Executive Officer of the Irish Refugee Council, who discussed the health framework, in theory and practice, that is available to people seeking protection, as well as exploring the experience of support organisations such as the Irish Refugee Council from a day-to-day casework perspective
  • Dr Caroline Munyi, Migrant Women’s Health Coordinator at AkiDwA, an organisation dedicated to advocating for migrant women’s rights in Ireland.

A short address from the Minister for Older People and Mental Health, Mary Butler TD, was also shared during the conference.

You can now watch the Founder's Day 2023 conference below.

Supports and services

Speaking about the conference, Professor Paul Fearon, our Medical Director, said:

“We know that many migrants and refugees will experience mental health difficulties, with research showing that the prevalence of a range of mental health difficulties tends to be higher among migrants and refugees than their host populations.”

“As many parts of the world, including Ireland, continue to see increased numbers of migrants and refugees arriving against the backdrop of ongoing wars, conflict and persecution, it is imperative that we acknowledge and address the specialised mental health requirements of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, many of whom will have complex psychological needs.”

“Through our advocacy work, SPMHS aims to advocate for the needs of marginalised groups, and this year’s Founder’s Day conference is a timely opportunity to explore and highlight services and resources which can support mental healthcare professionals to be inclusive of the experiences of migrants in their practice.”

See other talks and conferences

Look back on our past Founder's Day conferences, or see a webinar from our Women's Mental Health Network, run in collaboration with the National Women's Council, on migration, resilience and women's mental health.

See other talks and conferences

Continue to…

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