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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 55-57

Understanding of emotional health of migrants, with special focus on social factors

Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital; Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disabilities, Chandigarh, India

Date of Submission31-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance01-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication02-Oct-2020

Correspondence Address:
Prof. B S Chavan
Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector - 32, Chandigarh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_244_20

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How to cite this article:
Chavan B S. Understanding of emotional health of migrants, with special focus on social factors. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36, Suppl S1:55-7

How to cite this URL:
Chavan B S. Understanding of emotional health of migrants, with special focus on social factors. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 26];36, Suppl S1:55-7. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/5/55/297145

The author Prof. R. Srinivas Murthy is an excellent writer and a teacher whose contribution in Indian Psychiatry will always be remembered. His landmark work in integrating mental health services in the general healthcare (Raipur Rani Model) got reflected as a major objective in the National Mental Health Programme of 1982. He is very sensitive to community psychological suffering, especially disaster management, in India and has been continuously writing about it.

The article by Prof Murthy is very comprehensive and inspirational.[ 1] However, with an attempt to include each aspect of COVID-19 pandemic, certain important areas are mentioned very briefly. One of these areas is impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the migrant workers who are the biggest sufferers of the sudden lockdown, with the genuine intention of the government to control further spread of the infection. However, the author has tried to include the issue in the article (See Page 8).[1] However, the most serious and sensitive issue has not been dealt in detail. Because of this limitation of the main article,[1] this commentary focuses in detail on the emotional health of the migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a brief reference to similar migration in India in the past.

India has been witnessing migration for many years; the biggest being during the partition where it is estimated that 14 million people migrated (approximately 7 million from each side) where religious and social factors played a major role in the displacement of a large population.[2] The subsequent major internal migration in India was led by rapid industrialization in major cities of India, which started with the three major port cities of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras and later due to job opportunities created by rapid growth of industries in other cities of India.[3] Although this internal migration from rural areas to industrial towns was largely due to “pull” factors as there were better job opportunities; some local “push” factors in the shape of discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, and political pressure might also be responsible for this migration. Although there is no specific documentation on this migration, the Census of India and population study are the two scientific documents to give some information. The Census carries information on place of birth and current place of residence, and the reasons for migration were introduced since 1981 census where they have been made available by streams of migration (such as rural to rural, rural to urban, urban to rural, and urban to urban). The National Sample Survey Office conducts various kinds of socioeconomic surveys, and its employment and unemployment survey is an important source of migration data in India. In India, three levels of migration can be identified: intra-district, inter-district, and inter-state migration.

In India, intra-state migration accounts for around 87% as compared to 13% of inter-state migration;[4] however, the inter-state migration has increased over the last decade. Although the reasons for lesser rate of inter-state migration have not been studied, the possible reason could be that the persons want to be closer to their family of origin, feel more comfortable within a similar socio-cultural environment and religious background, and have easy access to the support of their family in case of any adversity. In India, majority (approximately 57%) migrate due to better employment opportunities,[5] followed by education and business. The large part of migration in India is short term, temporary, and circulatory in nature, and they keep their link with their native places through visits, sending money, and even returning back for short time.

In routine circumstances, migration is a planned event, and a lot of time is spent in planning and finally shifting to new place. As part of planning, generally, prior arrangements are made to search for a suitable job and a suitable place to stay. Thus, such migration is deliberate and well planned. In such migration, however, there might be initial issues to adjust to the new place of work and stay. However, in view of prior planning and some support at the new place of migration, there are no major mental health issues, and soon, these persons adopt a regular circular, seasonal, and temporary mobility pattern as part of their livelihood. Such migration helps them to move out of poverty and offers opportunities in increasing their income and upgradation of their skills. Once settled, many migrants bring their family members, relatives, and friends to live along with them.

The nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and sudden as the announcement by the PM of India was made on March 24, 2020, for a period of 3 weeks and the movement of 1.3 billion population of India was restricted. It was ordered to prevent community transmission of COVID infection when the number of confirmed cases reached to approximately 500, and there was serious risk of spread to the larger population. After the success of first lockdown (doubling rate increased from 6 to 8 days), and on the recommendation of many state governments, the lockdown was further increased up to May 3 and it was further increased up to May 17.

Although the scientists and whole world appreciated India's decision of timely lockdown, it created panic among millions of migrant workers across the country. In the absence of public transport, these workers started walking in large groups on the roads and the resultant mass migration has increased the possibility of an escalation of infection. It is estimated that over 39 crore of the Indian population works in the unorganized sector, and migrant labors lack any security umbrella. There is no study till date to understand the reason of mass “reverse migration.” Loss of job and inability to meet daily livelihood may not be the only reasons.

While working in a shelter home in Chandigarh where these migrants were temporarily lodged for providing them food and shelter, many migrant workers appreciated the government initiative to lockdown the country, as there was no other choice to prevent the spread of COVID infection. The reasons cited by them to go back to their native places were the risk of COVID infection as they believed that it was the diseases of the cities and villages were safe; some of them wanted to be close to their family so that they can be looked after in case they become unwell; others cited the reasons on uncertainty of lockdown, and over the time, they might be exhausted of whatever meager resources they have. Some of the migrant said that they have small children back at home and no one will be there to care of them in case something happens to them.

  Impact of Migration Top

It is expected that the reverse migration of workers will adversely affect the economy of this country. The small Rehriwala who was earning by catering to the demands of migrant workers will become jobless, some well-off migrant will make purchases from small shops in their neighborhood and these shops will lose their business, and the migrants after returning to their native place will not have money for their livelihood as these migrant workers are typically hand-to-mouth consumers. In fact, before returning home, they used to send money to their family, and now, it will be other way around that they will look up to their family to feed them. These persons had initially migrated to cities as there were no local jobs. Even after the lockdown opens, the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) which contributes up to one-third of India GDP will not be in a position to take them back. Even many MSMEs did not pay them salaries for March and April. A large number of industries including textiles, weaving, and construction and trading are run by the migrant workers, and these industries will collapse in the absence of skilled workers. It is unlikely that many of them would be thinking to go back to the cities because of uncertainty and might prefer to take up odd jobs in their native place.

At the moment, the main worry of the migrant workers is to reach their native place, and during this process, they might experience mild form of emotional issues in the form of insecurity, insomnia, excessive worries, stigma, and stress. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, asked all the state governments to set up shelter home for migrant labors, and the Department of Psychiatry in the State Medical Colleges were asked to provide regular psychosocial counseling. The team of mental health professionals working with these migrants in the shelter home reported that very few migrants reported mental health issues and their main worry was to get food, water, and safe shelter. However, the persistent demand was to help them to reach back to their native place. In the absence of any specific answer, the mental health team was left with just the option of giving reassurance that soon, the situation will be normal. Some of them feared that they might face social discrimination after reaching their native place as they might be suspected of carrying COVID infection. Some of migrants reported that police and local authorities were very harsh with them and they were interested in clicking photographs for publicity rather than empathetically looking after their genuine problems.

In addition to the short-term effects of the COVID-19 disaster, it is possible that like earlier disasters, many persons might experience depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorders, and medically unexplained somatic symptoms.[6] Unlike the earlier natural and artificial disasters which were limited to small areas, COVID-19 is a pandemic disaster and its consequences are expected to be many times more than the earlier disasters. The crippled economy of the nation will further increase the woes of migrant workers.

Researchers feel that rapid and rigorous research into the impact of COVID-19 on mental health is needed to limit the impact of the pandemic. Experts, on the basis of newly conducted polls and emerging studies into COVID-19 and lessons from the past outbreaks, suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic could have profound and potentially long-term impact on mental health. Prof. Ed Bullmore, Head of the Department of Psychiatry, from the University of Cambridge states that research conducted so far has been small scale and fragmented. Prof. Bullmore et al. state, “Our key message is that COVID-19 is likely to have impact on mental health now and into the future and we need to start thinking about that immediately.”

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Murthy RS. COVID-19 pandemic and emotional health-social psychiatry perspective. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020:36 (Suppl);S24-S42.  Back to cited text no. 1
Visaria PM. Migration between India and Pakistan, 1951-61. Demography 1969;6:323-34.  Back to cited text no. 2
Bhagat RB, Jones G. Demographic dynamics of mega-urban regions: The case of Mumbai. Demogr India 2014;43:71-94.  Back to cited text no. 3
Census of India. Census Schedule: Household. New Delhi: Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner. Available from: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011-Schedule/Shedules/English_HH_Side_B_NT.pdf. [Last accessed on 2020 May 13].  Back to cited text no. 4
National Sample Survey Organisation. Migration in India 1999-2000 NSS 55th ROUND (July 1999–June 2000). National Sample Survey Organisation: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India; 2001.  Back to cited text no. 5
George C, Kanakamma LG, John J, Sunny G, Cohen A, de Silva MJ. Post-Tsunami mental health: A cross-sectional survey of the predictors of common mental disorders in South India 9-11 months after the 2004 Tsunami. Asia Pac Psychiatry 2012;4:104-12.  Back to cited text no. 6


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