Massey University, New Zealand
Immigration and Mental Health: Stress, Psychiatric Disorders and Suicidal Behavior Among Immigrants and Refugees. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2010, 350 pages.
This chapter outlines the development of theories and models which explain migrants’ mental health and their successful application in New Zealand. The Social Selection Theory was the first theory proposed in the 1940s, but it soon proved to be unsatisfactory in explaining the relationship between immigration and mental health as it attributed the occurrence of mental health problems in the immigrant population to a predisposition of the individual to mental disorder. The alternative theory, the Social Causation Theory, was equally limited, in that it attributed mental illness to external stress alone. It became apparent in the 1960’s that the two theories were not separable as a predisposition and the experience of stress both contribute to an increase of mental health problems. Therefore it became necessary to examine the multiple factors that comprise the process of immigration and the Multivariate Model of the Immigrant Adaptation Process was proposed in the 1970s. It took into consideration pre-migration conditions, post-migration factors in the society of settlement, the length of residence, and characteristics of individuals, and offered testable explanations of the relationship between immigration and mental health. Subsequent research using the Multivariate Model led to proposals with distinctly different patterns of the Length of Residence factor and also added new aspects to the model, e.g. the Circumstances of Migration (either forced or voluntary). This Multivariate Model had become very influential, provided the evidence needed to improve health and social services particularly for refugees. The most recent model, the bi-dimensional Acculturation Process Model explored the individual’s attitude to acculturation (expressed by four adaptation styles) with two successful styles of adaptation to the host society and two styles detrimental to mental health. New Zealand’s research, being focused for many years on the physical health effects of migration had neglected mental health research. The settlement of large numbers of Indochinese refugees prompted some exploration of mental health concerns using aspects of the Multivariate Model of the Adaptation Process. Despite a relatively large migration research focus in New Zealand, there have not been many specifically mental health studies. Those that were carried out, however, applied the theoretical framework of the migration models and generated findings that were successfully applied to migrant service provision in New Zealand.