Migrants, Mental Health and Covid-19

Dianna Djokey reflects on the impact Covid-19 has had on the migrant community as she interviews migrant, mother and wife Ade Qsawe Anthony about how Covid-19 has affected her own, and her family’s, mental health.

As the global pandemic takes centre stage and lockdowns are being implemented all over the world, individuals and families have had to deal with drastic changes, including sudden job losses and home-schooling their children. Different demographics have been affected by Covid-19 in varying ways around the world – including different impacts on men, women and people living in poorer areas. Research from UCL’s Covid-19 Social Study shows that, in terms of public health, levels of depression and anxiety were higher amongst people of colour during lockdown.

Ade Osawe Anthony, a Nigerian migrant, mother and wife told me, ‘Covid has affected my husband, he lost his job during the pandemic. For the first two months it was really hard, but as time has gone on, it has gotten a bit better. We had to adjust things such as buying extra things I [would] normally buy for the children. I had to explain to them there are some things we need to cut down on, [for them] to understand things are now different.’

The International Organization for Migrants (IOM) have raised concerns about the impact of the pandemic on migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons all over the world, as these groups ‘disproportionally experience the impacts of the pandemic due to their weakened social support structures, bleak socio-economic prospects, unequal access to health care and social services, precarious housing, tenuous living and working conditions, vulnerability to misinformation and xenophobia, and risks of exploitation and abuse.’

In July, the IOM set up an information service for migrants who may be particularly affected by the pandemic in the United Kingdom,providing information on health, housing, and employment for migrants living in the UK, available in 8 different languages.

Ade described how the pressure of lockdown affected her family. ‘It [became] too much for me,’ she said,  ‘I think it affected me [mentally] more than the children because they don’t mind staying [home] with mummy and daddy.’

I asked if Ade and her family had access to any guidance and support from local services in Portsmouth.

‘No. Nobody was allowed to visit for 3 months. Nobody came to my house, I had to do it on my own. My husband was there, he also helped [when he could], and he was very supportive.’

Research funded by the Nuffield Foundation found in May that the pandemic has especially affected mothers, including:

  • Mothers are more likely than fathers to have left paid work since February.
  • Among mothers and fathers who are still in paid work, mothers have seen a bigger proportional reduction in hours of work than fathers.
  • Among those doing paid work at home, mothers are more likely than fathers to be spending their work hours simultaneously trying to care for children.

Alongside the additional pressures of the pandemic, and with her husband looking for a new job, Ade also found herself having to speak with her children about the uprising of Black Lives Matter and the killing of George Floyd.

‘The death of George Floyd was really sad. I’m a black woman. [To] see what had happened, it was really unfair. It affected me because I’ve come across racist people. For somebody to be against someone because of their skin colour or country is wrong. It affected my kids, Joshua and Chris, they kept asking me why, why us and why do white people hate black [people]? I said there are wonderful [white people] who aren’t racist. I also told them they have to be proud of who they are, and shouldn’t be intimidated by anybody.’

With the intersecting pressures of racism, an economic recession and unexpected social change, the IOM is calling for the mental health of migrants and refugees needs to be taken more seriously.

Director General of the International Organisation of Migrants, Antonio Vitorino, said, ‘There is often a lack of urgency about the provision of mental health and psychosocial support during crisis situations, but mental health is not a luxury, it is the backbone of what makes us human. It allows each and every one of us, including migrants and displaced persons, to act as positive, active contributors to our societies and I call on all decision-makers to ensure mental health actions are part of an inclusive, accessible public health response to the pandemic offered to migrants regardless of their legal status.’

When I ask her what support local authorities can offer to migrant communities as the pandemic rolls on, Ade agrees with Antonio.

‘I think they should do their best [to listen] and [understand] what people need to support them.’

S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • BAME communities
  • people with disabilities

We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences in any of these areas, get in touch with us over on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at submissions@starandcrescent.org.uk

Image by August De Richelieu from Pexels.

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