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Migration, abuse and mental health

This study seeks to discover if young people who have moved from a rural community into Bangkok in Thailand have more common mental disorders – anxiety, depression, substance use and alcohol problems – than their local peers, and whether they experienced abuse in childhood. The research will establish whether there are links between migration, child maltreatment and common mental disorders in young adulthood.

Studies around the world have shown that migrants frequently experience greater psychological distress than non-migrants, and that migrant children are at high risk for maltreatment and psychiatric disorders.

Over the last few decades, a dramatic number of Thai people have moved from rural areas into cities, especially Bangkok and its vicinity, as industrialisation takes hold. Migrants move mainly for economic reasons, but the numbers of migrants into cities are greater than the numbers of employment opportunities arising from the industrialisation process.

In 1997, it was estimated that around 18,000 of 91,000 sex workers in Thailand were child prostitutes, a large number of them from rural areas. Many urban areas have high rates of drug dealing, generating public concern about the health of young adults, many of whom come from migrant families.

The urban population in Thailand is predicted to continue to rise as a result of migration. Understanding the mental health consequences of migration from rural to urban areas in the country is important to inform planning of health services and social support, and to develop strategies aimed at reducing child abuse and common mental health problems.

A representative sample of 1,052 16-25 year olds from migrant families were recruited to the study. They were interviewed about their experiences, lifestyle and mental health problems and also completed a private questionnaire about their experience of abuse and the use of illicit drugs in the past. The tools used to measure childhood maltreatment, anxiety, depression, substance use, life events, social difficulties and social networks were translated into Thai and validated in a pilot study of 200 people.

The young people interviewed live in Pathumthani Province, next to Bangkok and consists of urban areas surrounded by rural areas and has areas designated for industry, where a large number of migrant workers and their families live.

Dr Tawanchai Jirapramukpitak, a Lecturer of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at Thammasat University in Bangkok, undertook the research for a PhD supervised by Professor Martin Prince

The research was funded by a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowship.



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