Identities in crisis: migrants, emotions and mental health in Portugal

Chiara Pussetti About the author

Based upon four years of fieldwork in a Portuguese mental health service for migrants, this paper critically discusses the nature of migratory experience as a risk factor and mental pathology. Several authors recently suggested that the very harsh conditions of contemporary migration are connected with an exponential increase in psychopathology. The idea of migration as inextricably linked to specific forms of mental suffering engenders a progressive medicalization of the migratory experience. This interpretation is based on the model of "negative selection". According to this model, it would be the weaker subjects, poorly integrated into their own societies, with few emotional bonds and unstable family structures, who would most likely choose to migrate. As a consequence, their latent mental disorders emerge distinctly in the host country. This representation of psychological vulnerability as a migrants' intrinsic characteristic, however, does not take into account the wider relationship between individual suffering and experiences of social exclusion, discrimination and shakiness of housing and working conditions, among other factors. The stereotype of the migrant as a mentally unstable person, with high risk of developing psychiatric disorders, transforms the social, economic and political matters of disadvantaged groups into mental problems that can be pharmacologically controlled and monitored.

Migrants; Mental Health; Pathologization; Public Health Policies; Clinical Governance


Faculdade de Saúde Pública, Universidade de São Paulo. Associação Paulista de Saúde Pública. Av. dr. Arnaldo, 715, Prédio da Biblioteca, 2º andar sala 2, 01246-904 São Paulo - SP - Brasil, Tel./Fax: +55 11 3061-7880 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil
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