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Mental health, migration and the megacity in São Paulo

After our first data collection in Shanghai, we were a further step to developing th eprogramme into Brazil. According to the research from Metropolis Study Center (2015), the urbanisation in São Paulo presents an especially compelling case. In 1960, the metropolitan area of São Paulo had 4.8 million inhabitants and in fifty years it has increased to nearly 20 million. In five decades São Paulo had an increase equivalent to two times the population of London.

The urbanisation presents many opportunities for those who move – with material gains, cultural freedom and the opportunity to build dexterous, resilient lives on the margins of major cities. Nonetheless, urbanisation can come at a high price of stress, dislocation, social defeat, and family dispersion, frequently resulting in elevated rates of illness, especially mental illness. Concerns about this burden of mental disorders have grown worldwide as well as its association with urbanicity, however little is known about the extent of these issues in the rapidly-expanding megacities in developing countries such as Brazil. 

Since world population growth is projected to be concentrated in megacities, with increases in social inequality and urbanisation-associated stress, there is an urgent need to improve our understanding about these relationships with mental health in order to develop adequate interventions and health policies.

This project is under the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) umbrella programme, Urban Transformations (coordinated by Oxford University) and a sub project within our Urban Brain lab. This project is led in partnership with São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).


The project is composed of three working packages (WP):

  1. Understanding migrants’ mental health in São Paulo through a systematic review and synthesis of literature
  2. Developing a nuanced understanding of São Paulo’s migrants, following the research design of the Newton project in Shanghai. This design focusses on daily life experience and how it relates to mental health issues, using a pilot study of ethnographic field work in São Paulo
  3. Promoting group meetings between researchers from São Paulo and London, including a site visit of São Paulo researchers to the King’s College Newton project in Shanghai.
Project status: Completed


Funding Body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Amount: £60,000

Period: January 2017 - December 2018