Globe, Migrants, Multiculture, United Kingdom

Mental health & immigrants: surviving in a new country

Relocating means more than just living in another country. It is about coping with a change where you lose almost everything you own and encounter a new culture that you don’t know, and that doesn’t know you. Sanity and insanity waver dangerously.


Taylor Zambrano


A Colombian woman flees her country from an abusive husband and must leave her small children behind.

After reaching London, she focuses on working hard and studying in order to make a better life for herself and bring her children to live with her.

While in London, she meets man who helps her settle down and find work, but in turn begins to sexually abuse her as compensation for helping her, and she also continues to face emotional abuse at work.

During the five years that she was living in London, h      er mother died of cancer in Colombia and she was unable to see her because she could not return. The children were left with her in-laws, who told them lies about their mother abandoning them for a life of prostitution.

In turn, the children wanted nothing to do with their mother and even refused to speak with her on the telephone whenever she called. When she was finally able to bring her children to live with her, reestablishing a relationship with them was another struggle she faced.

Fortunately for this woman, she was able to take courses and grow into a confident woman who raised children in a happy and stable environment.

They are now advocates for immigrants and volunteer their time in helping the less fortunate.

This story is not uncommon among Latin American immigrants who travel to the UK in search of a better life.

However, a lot of the time their stories do not have this kind of happy ending, because their mental health suffers far beyond repair.

Although health care is a necessity, usually only the physical aspect is taken into consideration while the mental aspect is ignored completely. Mental health amongst immigrants is especially important because this can affect their ability to survive in a new environment

Life’s stressors

According to research done by the University of London, there are currently about 113,000 Latin Americans in London, which has risen from 31,000 in 2001.

In addition, the report says that about 85% of the Latin American community is employed.

The study also says that many of these Latin Americans are over-qualified for their jobs and very few take state benefits.

They earn well below average salaries and live in bad housing, despite being highly educated and coming to the UK for better economic reasons.

One of the biggest barriers keeping them from fighting for their working rights and even simply communicating their problems to anyone is language. Each and every one of these factors is considered an added-on life stressor.

Nancy Liscano, the president of El Teléfono de la esperanza UK (The Telephone of Hope), talked to The Prisma and says that if a person comes to this country with personal problems or trauma already, and then they must endure poor working conditions, unsuitable living situations and a language barrier as well, a person’s mental health can suffer greatly, especially if he or she keeps his or her emotions bottled up.

To make matters even worse, multiple studies done in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008 have claimed that there are additional obstacles that Latin American immigrant families encounter that keep them from navigating the mental health system: the stigma that comes with help-seeking, lack of insurance and language barriers.

Why London?

With such a strong language barrier and the knowledge of how difficult it is to just pick up and completely change your life around, it would seem as though the entire move would not be worth it. However, for most immigrants any other living situation is better than the life that they left behind. Nancy says that the majority of people leave their home country for economic reasons, because there are many Latin American countries currently undergoing a financial crisis.

She also states that additional reasons include professionals leaving for better work opportunities, people escaping conflict and violence from their home countries or fleeing unhealthy relationships and familial problems.

Nancy explained that immigrants look to London because it is more secure and is a cosmopolitan area that brings together many different cultures, making it easier to assimilate.

How you see it

An individual’s attitude can make a situation more or less favorable. For example, if someone is sick, a person’s attitude can either hinder or help the problem.

Nancy thinks that if somebody has a positive outlook on life and is optimistic, then he or she will be able to find the resources that are necessary to help overcome an illness or sickness he or she might have.

If a person has negative and destructive thoughts, then this is also reflected physically and can cause a person physical pain or enhance the pain that he or she was already feeling.

Large amounts of stress lead to nervousness and anxiety, which can then induce breathing problems, stomach troubles, and even ulcers. She says, “Our mind, spirit and body are all connected and work together to react to a situation.”

According to Nancy, being open and not bottling up feelings, finding a friend to confide in and expressing emotions are all very important factors that can lead to positive emotional health.

If the move is too much and tensions begin to build, Nancy tells people to call home or even Skype to help relieve some of the stress of missing home. Similarly to the Colombian woman who fled her abusive husband, taking confidence-building courses and learning the language of the new country are two other important factors that can positively influence a person’s mental wellbeing.

These classes can lead to better communication in the workplace, more expression of emotions and an overall optimistic outlook on life.

Reaching out for help should not come with a stigma and should instead be encouraged, because no one should have to suppress emotions and feelings, especially those who have suffered greatly from their past already.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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