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Prof. Jaya Dantas on the need for specific programs to target migrant women’s mental health
My lowest point over 10 years in Australia was after my baby was born. I was close to depression but luckily I came out of that period reasonably quickly. Now I (talk about) my experience to my women friends who are about to or have just delivered. I tell them to talk to their family whenever they feel down… they have to let them know. I kept my feelings to myself for (too) long and I just could not cope anymore.
I felt quite embarrassed to admit that something was wrong with me. I mean, how could I say I had a psychological issue. The cultural influence is quite huge on me, so I just kept quiet. Finally I had quite a moment with my family when I was able to open my feelings to them. They realised how serious the problem was. (After that) I could be teary at any time, and they were quite supportive…
You can’t miss the streak of helplessness in these thoughts.
These are migrant woman sharing their experience of depression.
You would be surprised to learn that these women were skilled (read educated) migrant women. What then would the impact be upon refugee and asylum seeker women, who have suffered much trauma before making Australia home?
The impact of migration on women is not well explored.
Dr Jaya A. R. Dantas, Professor of International Health at Curtin University, in her recent article published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, has made a remarkable attempt to examine this issue. She has been involved in research with refugee and migrants and women and gender issues since 2005. Her research findings have highlighted issues of skills wastage, challenges faced by women, mental health, and their amazing resilience.
Feeling lonely, missing family, missing the wider community, not having close friends, inability to navigate and travel, difficulty in communicating in English, are some common challenges that are shared when discussing post-migration life with migrant women. The burden of family and raising kids with no help, unlike back home, only adds to the difficulties they face. Migration can be an extremely lonely and isolating experience.
Jaya’s review documents that in many cultures, women have not heard of depression or post-partum depression (PPD). She notes, “Cultural practices and close family support cushioned them from isolation and stress during these crucial times. One mother expressed her distress when she was informed that she suffered from PPD. She was afraid of telling her husband and family, as she would be considered ‘crazy’, a stigma in her culture.”
As revealed in the research, there are many challenges to accessing help like logistical and communication barriers, cultural dissonance, and of course ‘non-acceptance’ in the new country.
“Many women either deny the fact that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, or fear what their community would say.”
Jaya’s work suggests key policy reforms. She recommends gender specific research and cultural responsiveness in service delivery and to a large extent social integration of immigrants.
While these reforms need time and partnerships between various government and community sectors in order to be implemented, the ground work must start by empowering women themselves and their communities.
Establishing women’s self-help groups among communities, increasing knowledge of services available specifically for women, and more importantly, accepting that the journey of migrating to a new land and reaching the stage when one can call it ‘home’ is in itself a transition that requires immense courage, strength and time. Taking small steps, and not demanding too much from yourself, is the key.
In Jaya’s words, “The solution lies in realising that as skilled migrant women, we are educated, resilient, can empower ourselves. We need to recognise when we need help and seek it in a timely manner.”
Readers seeking support and information about depression can contact Lifeline on 13 1114 and Beyondblue on 1300 224 636