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Mental health and migration

If mental health is already greatly overlooked by this society, where there is a great lack of resources to attend to mental needs, and where psychological help is still shrouded in stigma and ignorance, when it comes to the mental health of children living on the streets, or in contexts of extreme vulnerability, care is practically non-existent.

There are many reasons why these young people are at the highest risk of suffering from mental health problems, or emotional distress. Firstly, because their basic needs are not met, they cannot access healthy food, or the necessary rest, or have a sense of physical security. Nor do they have access to housing, health or education, among others (Convention on the Rights of the Child: All these rights violations, bring as a consequence feelings and emotions such as anguish, anger, distrust and hostility as well as sudden mood changes that become part of their personalities.

All migration, like any social and personal change, has its share of grief.This mourning is explained by the multiple and massive loss of ties, with the physical, social and cultural environment, by the pain and frustration of expectations, which arise from moving from a place with emotional ties to one to which they again have to adapt to and develop new ties (Sayed-Ahmad, 2013). If, to this grief, which to a greater or lesser extent is always present in any migration project, we add the stress caused by the concern for their physical integrity, we find ourselves facing an emotional hurricane which very few have the necessary tools to fight.

We cannot also forget that they are young people, adolescents, who are in a stage of vital changes, of transition to adult life, with all the insecurities and confusions that this process brings and adds up to.

In the specific case of the young people who live on the streets of Melilla, we must add other causes specific to the city that directly affect their mental health.

On the one hand, Melilla is a city designed to keep these young people here and prevent them from entering the mainland, turning the city into a space-time limbo for them, where they wait for weeks, months or even years to be able to continue with their migratory project by entering the Peninsula. To this fact, we must add their great expectations about what the West represents for them: a territory of opportunities, of success, a whole imaginary shared by these young people, which collapses when they face the reality of Fortress Europe. This face to face with reality, without an emotional maturity, without references and without a safe and protected environment, further complicates their emotional well-being.

Faced with this complex situation, some young people show several indicators of mental health problems. These include the somatisation of emotional problems, leading to constant physical discomfort (headaches, intestinal problems, fatigue, etc.), low self-esteem, as well as self-harm and suicidal ideas related to the depression and anxiety they suffer. Due to the difficulty they show in managing all this complexity, a recurrent way of evading it is the consumption of substances, which on the one hand increases their sense of well-being temporarily, but which in the long term can cause or aggravate the consequences described above.

At Solidary Wheels and No Name Kitchen, we believe in the need to do emotional work with young people, to accompany them in the management of all these factors described above, so that possible mental health problems do not become irreversible. Therefore, we work on prevention and support based on various techniques and strategies. On the one hand, we create links that strengthen their individual possibilities, with a base of unconditionality, which gives them security and better self-esteem, making them understand that we will be by their side in their successes and also in their failures. Our support is always offered from a constructive approach, working on their expectations, the hidden ones and the confessed ones. And finally, relationships are built on active and empathetic listening, making them perceive that we accept and respect their feelings and emotions, dignifying their migratory and life project.

In spite of the violence and structural inequality to which these children are subjected, there are many evident signs of resilience, understood as the human capacity to overcome and come out stronger from adverse experiences, which allow them to face with courage this obstacle course that is to achieve their objectives. Thus, despite the administrative obstacles, the frustration and their few prospects for improvement, the will to continue fighting for their migration project is still present, giving them the strength to continue fighting every day against this system that seeks to rob them of their dignity.

By Anna Peñarroya and Mariona Sementé



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