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ATN Blog - Differences in Late-Life Depression among Intra-European Migrants

Datum:30 mei 2022
Maximilian Frentz-Göllnitz
Maximilian Frentz-Göllnitz

Maximilian Frentz-Göllnitz, PhD candidate at the Population Research Center, Faculty of Spatial Sciences (RUG) and at the Institute for Sociology and Demography, Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences (University of Rostock)

Population aging and population diversity are two dominant trends of demographic change that have a substantial impact for societies. However, getting older no longer just means healthy ageing: The proportion of older people suffering from chronic and mental conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, dementia, and depression is increasing. There is also evidence that migrants may be a particularly susceptible group. My PhD research aims to investigate the relationship between migration and health disparities, focusing on individual and aggregate level factors associated with disease and mortality.

In my first PhD paper, my colleagues and I have analyzed survey data from 2004–2020 to estimate the risk of late-life depression among intra-European migrants, adjusted for individual characteristics and using two different perspectives. More specifically, we compared migrants from Southern Europe and former socialist countries living in Central Europe with non-migrants from Central Europe and Southern Europe/former socialist countries respectively. We were also interested in the differences between men and women.

Why did we choose this topic? Mental health disorders such as depression are becoming more prevalent (World Health Organization, 2017), which has consequences for health and health care. There are several groups associated with mental health problems: Migrants have experienced stress through their migration process, which can have long-term effects on mental health (Bhugra, 2004). We know that women are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, possibly because they internalize problems more often than men (Rosenfield & Mouzon, 2013). Furthermore, older people could be particularly affected because they may be institutionalized (Palsson & Skoog, 1997). In light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the mental health of older migrants in Europe poses an important public health concern.

Our preliminary results showed that the risk of late-life depression is higher for migrants from Southern Europe compared with non-migrants in the host and origin countries. However, such a disadvantage was revealed in migrants from former socialist countries only in relation to the host population. When we separated our results by sex, these patterns persisted for female migrants, while there were no significant differences among the male groups.

Our study highlights that migrant background and sex are determinants of mental health at old age. Moreover, conclusions drawn from group comparisons should take into account the effect of the choice of reference population. We also argue that social and public health policies to support female migrants are needed to reduce inequalities in mental health among older adults in Europe. Overall, this paper contributes to the mounting evidence showing a health disadvantage for migrants in Europe, and it will be interesting to see whether this can be confirmed in my further PhD research for migrants in different contexts.

This blog was made possible by the  Aletta Talents Network. If you would like to contribute a blog for the ATN, please contact Tom at  t.a.lowe

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Bhugra, D. (2004). Migration and mental health. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 109(4), 243–258.

Palsson, S., & Skoog, I. (1997). The epidemiology of affective disorders in the elderly: a review. International Clinical Psychopharmacology, 12(Suppl. 7), S3-S13.

Rosenfield, S., & Mouzon, D. (2013). Gender and Mental Health. In C. S. Aneshensel, J. C. Phelan & A. Bierman (Ed.), Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (2nd ed., pp. 277–296). Springer.

World Health Organization (2017). Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates.