How should researchers work with migrants?
How does the asylum process affect people’s mental health?

This study aimed to understand how Iranians and Afghans seeking sanctuary thought and spoke about mental health. To answer this question I conducted in-depth and walking interviews with Iranians and Afghans who had sought asylum, people who worked with them in a professional capacity, and members of their community. I spoke to around 40 people in total.   

Methods

In-depth interviews

Sedentary interviews were conducted face-to-face at a location chosen by the participant or over the phone at the participant’s convenience.

Walking interviews

Walking interviews were conducted while walking with the participant. The route was chosen by the participant and related to their experience of the asylum process

Findings

Analysis of qualitative data generated five themes:

1) ‘mental health problems are a personal weakness’, explored how mental health problems were seen by many participants
and the diaspora community, as a personal weakness and indulgence.

2) ‘private shame of mental health problems’ relates to how mental health problems were described as a shame to be hidden by individuals and their families.

3) ‘discussing mental health problems indirectly and through metaphor’, however, shows how there was some space for indirect discussion of mental health. For example, by talking about problems of acculturation
and worries about the family.

4) ‘somatisation’, illustrates how participants across all groups expressed the mental health effects of the asylum process as manifesting in physical discomfort and pain.

5) ‘medicalising and legalising conceptions of mental health’ describes how interviewees reported that the bureaucratic process around the asylum process medicalised and legalised mental health, potentially depriving sanctuary seekers of a more empathetic approach from lawyers and medical professionals.