A Psychological Approach to Immigration
By: Majied Kaveh MD. PhD.
Migration is a phenomenon that takes place in the hopes that it will lead to a better life for the migrants. It is usually divided into two categories: forced and voluntary. In recent decades, the voluntary form of migration has grown significantly, which appears to flow from East to West, or from less developed countries to developed ones. It is obvious that the characteristics of the above two types of migration and their effects on people’s lives and behavior, are different. In this article, the meaning of migration is the optional type, and the discussion of forced migration (which is often caused by war and insecurity) is not intended. Also, in recent years, there has been a tendency to live in two countries at the same time, which is considered a special type of immigration. In this type of immigration, people move to the destination country and obtain residence and work permits, while relationships and material and emotional bases are also maintained in the country of origin. I will talk about this type of migration in another article.
The causes of migration are divided into two groups: attracting and repelling. Attracting factors are related to the destination country and cause immigrants to move to that country. These factors can be higher living standards, social welfare, better job and education opportunities, as well as family or personal reasons. On the other hand, social exclusions, difficulties with education, a low level of well-being and the lack of desirable social conditions, along with poverty and low wages, are among the repelling causes that are related to the country of origin.
Although voluntary migration is a choice, it should be kept in mind that migration is very different from taking a vacation. What happens in migration results in vast and deep changes in life and psychological conditions, which we will discuss briefly.
The most important feature of stressful migration is its psychological effects and behavioral stress that start from the time of planning for migration and continues until a person has fully adapted to their new environment, which can last for years.
Stress is an inseparable part of human life today and it is a condition in which the pressure of any kind of internal or external stimuli creates tension in humans. The body’s response to this tension is called stress.
Therefore, the body’s response to the pressure of an external stimulus (such as the death of a relative, dismissal from work, relocation, or illness), along with biochemical interactions in the brain, affect the mental and psychological state of a person. Nevertheless, stress as a natural reaction, if controlled, is necessary for survival and adapting to the environment and can increase performance and motivation. Alternatively, uncontrollable and prolonged stress often leads to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. In addition to the disturbance in perception and cognition, it also reduces the power of performance and mental ability to solve problems and causes a decrease in performance.
Migration along with its related effects such as change of residence, change of job, distance from friends and family, lack of financial security, etc. are fundamental factors in the occurrence of stress. Therefore, migration often leads to a set of stressful thoughts, feelings, and actions, each of which alone can cause some mental challenges.
Stressful factors at the origin
Considering the psychological characteristics of people interested in migration, the roots of stress can be found in their personality even before migration. In most cases, immigrants do not consider their existing social, occupational, and economic positions to be in line with their expectations and are thinking of changing their existing environment and conditions. This discrepancy between what we “are” and what we expect to “be” is a stressful factor. Therefore, it can be said that the stress of these immigrants starts even before thinking about immigration.
In general, people who decide to migrate have certain personality traits, including high IQ, boldness, risk-taking, etc. Of course, this does not mean that people who have not migrated do not have these traits, but it means that immigrants are found among such people in society. It is obvious that such people often have a special position in society, which they will lose when they migrate to another country. Therefore, the stress caused by this, along with changing their place of residence, being forced to sell household items and staying away from friends and relatives all cause stress in a person. It goes without saying that the amount of this stress for each individual depends on the intensity of dependence on the above factors. The more financial, emotional, work and family attachments we have, the more stress we will have. Considering how many of our past achievements we have to leave behind, will also lead to stress. Research shows that those who did not have good financial and social conditions before migration, had higher satisfaction after migration. From this point, one can understand the reasons why migration is easier at a younger age, and also learn more about the causes of stress before migration.
Stressful factors at the destination
The new environment with its linguistic, cultural, and atmospheric elements, in addition to its novelty and diversity at the beginning, can become a stressful factor later on. Things like choosing a place of residence, providing suitable housing, and providing the necessary equipment are among the first problems. Next, the equivalence of documents (from education certificates to driver’s licenses, children’s vaccination cards, etc.), access to means of communication (cell phone, internet, favorite TV channels), and most importantly, finding a suitable job and earning enough income. Each comes with its own stresses and worries. In addition to all this, financial problems, especially in the case of not having enough savings, while creating worry and anxiety over all the activities of the newly arrived immigrant casts a shadow and doubles the difficulties.
To deal with, or in better words to manage this wave of stress, we need appropriate resources and tools that undoubtedly play the most important role in a person’s ability to smoothly travel along this path and deal with stress. If a person cannot cope with the existing tensions, he will experience a depressed mood, low self-confidence, sleep disturbances, feelings of homelessness and homesickness, along with a sense of emptiness. These issues can lead to certain behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse, sleep disorders, family disputes, and mental disorders or physical illnesses.
Fields of successful immigration
In general, the factors influencing a successful migration are:
– Having a positive approach to immigration (not being pessimistic)
– Feeling satisfied with every stage of immigration
– The person’s capability of adapting to their new environment
– Having a supportive network of friends and relatives in their country of immigration
– Possessing a strong spirit and being ready and willing to work hard to achieve success
Each of the above items alone, and especially together, can provide grounds for satisfaction and success in immigration. In any situation, the role of one of the above factors becomes stronger. For example, the support network of friends and relatives at the beginning of migration and the joy of trying and being hardworking in later years play a better role.
What determines the success rate of immigration are the two factors of realistic and evolved personality and real expectations from immigration. People who have the ability to deal with and cope with stress by focusing on work and activity and progress based on the existing quality of life, are much more successful than those who face stress with a feeling of dissatisfaction with the current situation and negative thoughts. Also, people who look at immigration as the triangle of “change, effort, problem solving” and do not look for any stability or peace in it, are more likely to find success in immigration. While those who have an unrealistic dream of immigration and see the existing conditions as different from their ideals, by expecting too much, pave the way for more stress and lose the possibility of success. Therefore, developed personality and proper expectation of migration are two important factors for a successful migration.
How to have a successful immigration?
As previously mentioned, the specifics of immigration depend on various conditions and the personality of the immigrant, but what gives them a greater chance of success, by reducing mental and emotional problems, are as follows:
1) Consulting with experts, including immigration consultants and mental health professionals
2) Having real and reasonable expectations about immigration
3) Learning the language of their new country and acquiring new abilities and skills
4) Gaining social status through networking, employment, or voluntary work
5) Creating a network of new friends and keeping in touch with old friends
6) Relying on the achievements of immigration and not paying too much attention to what was lost
Although, according to studies, most immigrants to Canada are more satisfied with their lives compared to their country of origin (for example, see: Life Satisfaction among Recent Immigration in Canada-www.statcan.gc.ca), it should not be forgotten that there are difficulties and problems that come with immigration. Observing the requirements of immigration and using the experiences of others, especially experts and other knowledgeable people, while reducing the pressures and controlling the stress caused by it, can make immigration easier and more successful.