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Empathy and sympathy: how migration and mental health are inseparable

Tijs Magagi Hoornaert
West Africa
IOM MHPSS migrants as messengers world mental health day west africa Senegalese actor Antoine Danfa in action during a theatre caravan on awareness raising in Mbour, Senegal. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM a OIM

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a worldwide mental-health crisis. Although, one forgets easily that the psychological minefield by returned migrants was looming long before.  When familiar sources of enjoyment evaporate after the homecoming, we cannot forget the real struggle these migrants go through. 


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (WHO, 2004). 


World Mental Health Day is one day that gives the world an opportunity to raise awareness on mental health issues and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. Its main objective is to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide. 


Given its mission to uphold the dignity and human rights of migrants, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) applies its Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) approach, which lies in the fundamental interrelation of bio-psychological, socio-economic/socio-relational and cultural factors; in all its programs and interventions. The most recent IOM program being the awareness-raising campaign (AWR) called Migrants as Messengers (MaM) that is being rolled out in 7 countries in West Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone). 


By widening the focus of an awareness-raising programme to the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of the returned migrants involved as Volunteers, the MaM campaign aims at opening safe spaces for more than 300 Volunteers to encounter and animate discussions between peers.