Mental Health Stresses and Migration: Celebrating Nigerian Immigrants to Connect


Patrick Iroegbu


In July of every year Nigeria celebrates the Nigerian Diaspora Day. That day in July since 2005 is the 25th of this month. I set this article to give a perspective on mental health stresses and Nigerian immigrants. In general, one's state of mental health can cause the one to connect or disconnect. When a stressed out mental health is involved with the challenges of migration and settlement, it creates even a more behavioural complexity in one's life and society. Mental health migration is therefore often a conceptualization of experiences of frustrations that arise when dealing with issues of migration and diaspora communities. Evidently, diaspora community associations serve useful promotional links for people, particularly Nigerian immigrants, who are settling in a new place. As the article highlights the critical view of mental migration it also shows the difficulties immigrants face in adapting. It captures the requirement to connect to ethno-cultural communities in the question of the settlement of immigrants in a new location. The paper contends that helping the mentally distressed immigrants in view of the challenges they face when settling in a new world calls for not only what I identify as participation therapy but also to enable discourses pertaining to Diaspora Day Celebrations in Nigeria. By allowing immigrants to contribute to and be involved in the desired flow of exchange of skills, experiences and developments, mental health restored and sustained through associations deserves to be assured to promote work and development. In this way, it is hoped that opportunities and growth will occur, which will contribute to the mental wellness of the immigrant, his or her community, and the host settlement place at large.

Keywords: Mental migration, diaspora associations, ethno cultural community, development, participation therapy, settlement, opportunity, traditional solution.


July 25 of every year since 2005 is held as The Nigerian Diaspora Day. The Diaspora Day marks as a part of the Federal Government's efforts to mobilize the Nigerians in the Diaspora to be involved in Nigeria's development process. The Celebration Day is also meant to recognize the Nigerian immigrants' importance as key stakeholders in Nigeria's development. This also involves both the individual and collective successes of the targeted Nigerians in the Diaspora. Since this declaration of the Diaspora Day, an annual science and technology conference involving Nigerian scientists and technology experts in the Diaspora, is being initiated. Such a conference is highly premeditated to promote continuous dialogue and interface as well as build partnerships and synergy between Nigerian professionals and experts in the Diaspora and their counterparts at home. Godfrey Okpugie's report in the Guardian Online Edition of July 20, 2008 highlighted Ambassador Joe Keshi's view of the year's conference titled "Nigeria and the Diaspora: Utilizing Science and Technology to Drive Vision 2020" as a means to encourage Diaspora input and role in actualizing Vision 2020 through the transfer of skills, expertise, knowledge and technology to facilitate the country's transformation into a leading global economy.

While it is important to pilot and model the diaspora policy on successful Nigerians in diaspora, it will also be relevant to look at the other side of the coin ÔÇô the less successful ones faced with all forms of mental frustrations. In other words, we need to pose the question and try to find a response to what has happened to the less successful Nigerians in terms of mental migration and related challenges? I argue that there is a critical question of imbalance between being successful and not in the diaspora. Should Nigerian immigrants who are less successful not be part of the equation in the discourses for advancing development at home through Nigerians in Diaspora? May be to help this category of Nigerians resettle at home will offer them a vision and a restart to be successful. Examples of Nigerians who returned home and resettled with success stories abound. Immigrants look for places to resettle when their present places of residence seem not to work out well for them. In all circumstances, the opportunity to return home will re-boost and reinforce the dimensions of being successful to contribute at home.

To start with, this paper highlights a perspective to strengthen participation by immigrants for a better settlement and integration in a new place through diaspora cultural connections. And the fact that there exists a challenge at integrating and progressing within the cultural logic and mentality of the host society suggests a point of interest. The article draws attention to the particular difficulties faced by migrants who, for one reason or another, shy away from involvement with their community of origin in the diaspora. It is hoped that the information provided in this paper will help migrants consider the cultural values of belongingness and interaction with useful agencies that deal with a wider national and international development issues pertaining to settlement.

To address the paper, I have adopted a descriptive and explanatory approach in order to shed light on some experiences and reports on migration and settlement involving Nigerian migrants as they transact religious, economic, political, social, and cultural opportunities for adaptation and survival in the global scene. Specifically, I point to the Igbo of Nigeria and highlight the mental experiences and challenges Nigerians face in settling down and moving on with life in the global diaspora of today. Throughout this paper, the terms "ethno-cultural associations" and "diaspora associations" will be used interchangeably as they are deemed appropriate.

General Situation

It is worthy of note that the Nigerian media are getting increasingly concerned about the experiences and behaviours of disorder associated with survival struggles at home and in the diaspora. In one of his feature essay submissions captioned Mrs. Waziri and Mad Nigerian Leaders (see The Guardian, July 11, 2008), Abati argues that "a common sociological explanation of mental issue is that it is difficult to have a lower rate of mental illness in the face of excruciating poverty and uncertainties." This is more so when one lives among the rich and in an economic system expected to offer big hope but the one cannot access the opportunities to live religiously well. Nigerians are going mad as a result of unequal opportunities and unstable development conditions on the ground. There are no jobs. Too many young persons have no sense of fulfillment. There is no security in the land; diasporans are targets of armed robbery and rip-offs causing them deep mental restlessness. All the circumstances out there are compelling people to resort to desperate means and adopt even more desperate measures in order to remain alive. Such desperations are highly impactful on the mental life of the population. The south-eastern geographical states of Nigeria are troubled with intolerable infrastructural decay and corruption. Roads are unsafe to use and lives are hopeless by any modern standards.

Abati's article further noted that the average Nigerian is trapped in a stress-inducing environment that makes him or her prone to one form of mental disorder or mild neurosis. All of this can be explained but the clear challenge that Nigerians face is how to keep them off the challenges of mental suffering by taming the root causes at home and in the diaspora. The author stretched his contention by pointing to "religion as a supposed field to make a difference especially in the area of behavioural disorders. The religions are supposed to teach brotherhood, civility, temperance and great virtues." Unfortunately in Nigeria, religion has been a strong vehicle for encouraging mass hysteria and other forms of neurosis. A nation of churches as it has been labeled with a huge crime rate and corruption index. The churches, as Abati has once asserted, are forever promoting phobias. Across Nigeria is a growing population of devil-castigating, Holy-Ghost seeking soldiers of faith that is ready to kill once they find the Satan of their mental imagination. To save Nigeria, he claimed; "we must begin to deal with the crisis of mental disorder in high and low places be it at home or in the diaspora." Whatever is the case, Nigerian immigrants place emphasis, in part, on religious Pentecostalism and pastoralism of the new immigrant age as a system of understanding and responding to their personal and collective identities (cf. James & Gashinki 2006:50).

As important a life renewing belief as it is, migration, in general, refers to movement from one place to another, whether it is by individuals or groups. Often, migration occurs because of some ubiquitous and persistent situations that, more often than not, orchestrate an unhealthy mental state both in individual lives and also in societies in general. This may include such circumstances as war, crisis, religious or ethnic conflicts, or economic and political besoins, or needs (Stalker 2001; Iroegbu 2005, 2007; Enegho 2005). As such, I argue here that the concept of mental migration is, for the most part, a consequence of migration itself - from the initial stages of preparation to the settling down in another cultural location that is perceived to offer immigrants a relief from their present social, mental, political, and economic concerns.

For attention, I use here the term mental migration therefore to refer to the perceived and experienced mental stresses, frustrations, depressions, and disorders that are associated with displacement and resettlement in another region as immigrants search for better lives. In other words, mental migration captures the representation of mental challenges immigrants encounter as they move and settle in a new place. Mental migration is not used here in the sense of, nor is it concerned with, astrophysical journeying and maneuvering. Mental migration consists of those things that may strengthen and support or weaken a healthy mental state as immigrants struggle to adapt and realize their dreams in a new place.

Since people migrate for one reason or another (never for no reason at all), there occurs a host of mental challenges that immigrants may or may not have the capacity and resilience to handle alone. Migrants as a whole need coping. One way to help migrants to initiate a coping strategy is to encourage them to find ways to align themselves with others, such as individuals and institutions - which I will refer to here as ethno-cultural or diaspora associations - from one's home region. This should also concern with the discourses at home during the annual Diaspora Day celebrations. In the present day, personal considerations and choices, rather than coercion, can also lead to the decision to search for greener pastures through the act of migration. Regardless of any motive behind migration, those who move to a different place do so, as I have hinted, because they want to achieve a goal - namely, to seek security or better living conditions. Migration and settlement; therefore are associated with deep mental opprobrium resulting from the search for new and secure means of achieving a high quality of life. That is, a life which includes connection ÔÇô knowing others and being known by others that matter in the journey of survival.

The issue of mental challenges in migrants is not a new development; rather, it is a salient question that has presented challenges throughout history. At the present time, however, it is obvious that psychosomatic, or mental health related, episodes in African migrants, Nigerians in particular, demand political attention in terms of policies around this issue. The topic of migration and settlement in other societies - Canadian and American in particular - has been largely studied in terms of the ways in which individuals and their ethno-cultural communities relate to the mainstream society. On the one hand, such studies (e.g., Kibria 1986; Samuel & Conyens 1986; Falk 1979-1991; Chan & Indra 1987; Aroian 1990; Breton 1964; Royce 1982; Murphy 1973; Iroegbu & Olivia 2005) can be helpful in understanding how the dominant Anglo-Saxon community and the shared migration movement and experience relate to the building up of the lives of immigrants. On the other hand, they show that useful and rich analysis of cultural and social issues in new immigrant communities can bring into context the discourse surrounding the mental challenges Nigerians face in their new lives. The argument is that resettlement following migration is a historical experience in countries that have endorsed immigration. It is also to show that "trans-cultural" psychiatry factors into the unique experience of individual immigrants and at the same time provides an acknowledgement to the fact that the situations to be adjusted to by a variety of immigrants differ from one individual to the next.

A deep understanding of migration and how Nigerians face it mentally cannot be achieved outside of the realm of the cultural attitudes and the psychosomatic merits of such valued or frustrated attitudes stemming from the mental and physical struggle to make it. In addition, settlement in another society is encountered in such a way that the role of an ethno-cultural association facilitates the meeting of the challenges that are faced with settlement and the making of necessary connections in that respect. Getting the mental related issues discussed as a part of awareness creation and solution approach will go a long way to helping diasporans develop a feeling that they are equally being thought of in a positive way to re-domesticate their settlement challenges.

Increasingly, minority ethnic groups such as the Igbo, Hausa, Edo, and Yoruba of Nigeria, among others, are faced with challenges of different kinds in Canada and USA ÔÇô for both old and new immigrants. And even within ethno-cultural associations, immigrants experience the mental pressures of establishing a new life. The argument, therefore, is that the current culture-versus-race and ethnic group debate remains, and is, in need, of a deeper sociologic study of cultural adaptation as Nigerian immigrants face the realities of settlement.

The internet age brings with it another dimension of liaising and networking among Nigerian diasporans as they use this means to re-create and discuss their mental settlement challenges. Like in religious Pentecostalism and pastoralism, these developments need not be undermined, however, in their outreaches and goals. This is, in measure, because they are part of the modes by which many, perhaps most, as Littlewood and Lipsedge (1997: ix) point out that people in the settlement world interpret and experience serious mental pressures as they feel it. Consequently, such mental forces reflect complex local psychologies that challenge issues of selfhood, autonomy, causality, and power (Littlewood & Lipsedge 1997: x). To understand each Nigerian immigrant's mental settlement problems will be fundamental to any attempt at enacting effective policies - from discussion to action that provides critical focus and care. As such, mental settlement is feasibly rooted in the biology and culture of both the individual and the society at large. Mental settlement in another society tries to deal with Nigerian immigrant's experiences, including prejudice, discrimination, housing, unemployment, family issues, and all else.

Nigerian Migrants

Nigerian migrants are made up of individuals of Nigerian origin, namely Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Efik, Ijaw, Edo, Yoruba, and all other Nigerian ethnic groups. These migrants typically share a similar cultural identity, as defined by their Nigerian homeland. Typically, they set out from Nigeria, or from another second or third world country, in search of solutions to educational, economic, empowerment, security, and social-political needs. Such needs that they feel are unachievable and unsustainable in their current homelands due to prevailing political and economic corruption, lack of opportunity, insecurity and instability prevalent in Nigeria's developmental climate.

Nigeria is located in West Africa and has many pronounced viable development resources - such as a large human population of over 150 million, crude oil, mineral deposits, agricultural opportunities, and huge herbal ecological resources. From the time of the nation's inception, Nigerians have shown themselves to be resilient and resourceful migrants, both within the nation and across her borders. A prime example of this is the Igbo, over half of which live outside the Igboland area. And about 15 million out of the fast-growing population of this ethnic group, estimated at 45 million, live outside of Nigeria as resourceful migrants. Unfortunately, "brain drain" has hit the Igbo harder than most other ethno-cultural groups in North America, and as the Igbo migrate to other communities, gaps are created at home. In their new areas of settlement, the Igbo hope to be adopted by existing ethno-cultural associations, which must help soften the transition to a new place. The Igbo have been constantly in this process of adjusting themselves since the end of the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, in which they were the main victims of genocide and ethnocide (cf. Ekwekwe 1990; Adichie 1998; Forsyth 2002; Uzokwe 2003).

The question one is confronted with is this: why do the Igbo appropriate migration? Why are they not bothered by displacement at home? It is clear that adaptation to resettlement constitutes a strong basis of social care among social workers and it has, as such, been studied widely (cf. Wood 1988). Yet, specific Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa ways of hastening adaptation to resettlement and meeting their goals provide another insight into why one group takes migration more seriously than others in the same polity. Literature (for example, Salvendy 1983; Stalker 2001; Baker 1993; Iroegbu 2007) reveals that detrimental conditions consisting of previous psychological adjustment, a large socio-cultural gap between the origin and host societies, a change in socio-economic status, a troubled economy in the host country, and unrealistic expectations are key reasons why people choose to leave their countries of origin and face settlement situations elsewhere.

On the other hand, factors such as adequate information and preparation prior to migration, a good initial availability of funds, a good grasp of the host community's language, and the existence of a localized, functional, and accommodating ethnic community composed of members from the immigrant's cultural group go a long way to facilitating settlement opportunities. There are few things more frustrating for an immigrant than finding, upon one's arrival, that one can't financially afford to take advantage of opportunities. Such situations result in an immediate incapacity to negotiate connections and opportunities in the new place. Readily available at the back of the immigrant's mind is the thought of clinging to whatever job might be available, regardless of its nature or suitability. Separation from one's family network and attempts to connect with one's extended ethnic-cultural community may culminate in either friendly, positive support or a complete lack of the same. This is even more pronounced when pre-adolescent children and older persons are involved in migration and settlement episodes.

In the following portion of this work, I will discuss some of the thematic changes on physical, cultural, social, and ethno-cultural roles and the implications of the same, which may situate meaningful impacts on the life and times of Nigerians, in particular Igbo, migrants. Doing so will help to cast a sharp view on mental settlement, integration challenges, and subsequent developments at home.

Physical Settlement Demands

Every immigrant faces mental hassles when migrating to and settling in a new place. This is, perhaps, why Herberg (1982) organized the process of resettlement into a timeline in which an individual's life dies in one cultural context and is reborn in another. This period of rebirth is argued to be fraught with oppression brought about by various difficulties, including ecological challenges and conspiratory theories of racial and ethnic dimensions. By and large, the migrant faces many potential, or actual, threats of newness or novelty (cf. Aroian 1990). Masi (Masi et al 1993:265) explains Aroian's concept of "novelty," otherwise known as "culture shock," as the disorienting and threatening sense of unfamiliarity experienced by migrants. This newness, or "fresh-man/fresh-woman" syndrome, is characterized by inadequate abilities and a lack of the social conformity necessary to navigate in the new society and a lack of basic physical cultural adaptation codes, psychotherapeutic information, and skills to deal with the simplest tasks. This may complicate the life settlement situation and, consequently, jeopardize the ability to live satisfactorily at some material level of economic integration. More insidious and more complex, Masi (Masi et al 1993: 265) also argues, is a lack of understanding of subtle cultural norms, such as styles of social dealings. These challenges amount to mental discomfort in resettlement. Somewhere along the line, the newcomer is faced with the double challenge of making up for the loss and grief of separation and disconnection from home - people, things and places - and consequently to cope with the emerging, sometimes shocking situation in which the migrant is unprepared for to live by a poverty of opportunity takes its turn. Thus, the stress of newness is a cultural fact. It is such that migrants must cope with the results of plural changes inherent in the process of resettlement.

Furthermore, because migrants move from one global region to another, resettlement usually comes with important physical changes, adaptations, and requirements. Unfamiliar geography, hotter or colder weather, natural disasters common to the new area, crime, traffic laws, political violence, policing methods, and, of late, terrorist threats are all part of these new challenges. Even food culture changes, requiring the migrant to think about how and where to obtain recipes appropriate for the available food supply. Family life and behaviour patterns also come into play here - seeing indigenes eating out as an everyday activity constitutes a surprise as migrants question the logic of having restaurants and travel lodges in every part of the urban community and country side. Life in shopping malls and parks, and things like camping in the woods, challenge the intelligence of the migrant, who will resort to constantly questioning the sensibility and merit of such unfamiliar lives. Recently, the use of internet seems to be casting awareness by organizing and calling Nigerian children to experience camps designed around the host country's cultural domain of belongingness.

Social Changes

Masi (Masi et at 1993:266) asserts that migrants disengage from a fabric of social relationships in their society of origin. As such, the changes in the social capital network result in considerable mental stresses. In other words, resettlement disrupts social networks and kinship solidarity at the base. Not only friends, associates, acquaintances, and relatives are left behind, but also positions and social statuses associated with the position one held in the society of origin, which are now abandoned for others to occupy. Offoaro (2007), in his articles regarding things needed to relocate to Nigeria, provides detailed information about this displacement in Nigeria within the nostalgia and melancholy of a hope to return from diaspora and reconnect with one's old life. Along with the social changes the migrant has to cope with, unemployment or underemployment and experiences of subordination add to the mental challenges immigrants and refugees are scared of or mull over and suffer. Not only that these conditions mentioned may lead one to cling to frustrations, but have one to also develop subsequent grudges in the life and psyche of the immigrants.

Cultural Changes and Tensions

Upon migration to the Middle East, Australia, Europe, North America (Canada & USA), Russia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Israel, Dubai of Arab world and elsewhere, many recent Igbo-Nigerian migrants have quickly discovered that the values, beliefs, and social expectations - or cultural baggage - which they arrived with are unlike those they will need to live successfully in the host country. Mostly noticed immediately is the increasing number of fellow migrants arriving from different parts, including one's own, of the diverse world. And apparently the culture of one's origin and that of the mainstream host culture will tend to be more varied now than it was for previous generations of migrants. The current migration patterns, one can argue (cf. Herberg 1989), signify that newcomers (with the exception of refugees) are better informed and more prepared in comparison with newcomers in the past. This cultural plurality is embodied in a diversity of religious manifestations, heritage expressions, and the desire to integrate through educational opportunities and business activities that help make the host society more internationally competitive and globally hospitable. Nonetheless, a lack of adaptation to newly culturally required life skills and language competency is a major stressor in itself, which impedes the carrying out of tasks of daily living. Not only that none or poor knowledge of language of the host community reduces employment opportunities, it also unmistakably restricts social connections and participation with other individuals who are not from one's own region. The inability to speak the language necessary to transact daily lives is considered a serious handicap. It is such a cultural and social skill handicap that leads to mental profiling, prejudice, discrimination, and racism.

Inequitable access to suitable employment and total wellness-opportunities for internationally trained professionals and diverse immigrant workers - not minding their higher educational qualifications and experiences is a serious social-mental communicative disability. Because of problems of language proficiency (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Dutch, Arab or another second language) as Iroegbu and Olivia (2005:17) have argued, effective language is one of the key determinants of success in the labour market for settling immigrants.

Given the issue as above, it is, therefore, not a surprise to find in research notes and conclusions, such as the one postulated by the Canadian Task Force on Mental Health Issues Affecting Immigrants and Refugees in 1988, that the inability to speak the host language has been associated with schizophrenia in men (Bland & Orn 1981). William & Carmichael (1985) point to the Canadian Mental Health study on immigrants in which both men and women exhibit depression with regard to their inability to speak or write the host's language. Among children, behavioural deviance was attributed, in part, to challenges in speaking or writing the same language of the host society (Marcos 1982). In the era of physical anthropological studies of human differences - colour, blood type, body size, skull shape, etc. - the use of intelligence quotient (IQ) was in vogue when it was introduced as a dimension of physical discrimination of human's capacity to develop, learn, and represent themselves and their world. Thus, racialism, as a false science as it has been proved to be, was regarded as an accurate means for measuring superiority and inferiority of races of the humankind.

The concept of culture remains the bane of knowledge explorations. Since Hall (1976) saw cultural changes as issues associated with family life, he proposed the notion of contexting as a dimension of settlement. His notion was taken to differentiate post-industrial societies from "third world" or developing nations. For Hall, industrial communities are considered as low-context cultures whereas the latter are categorized to be high-context cultures. He characterized high-context cultures as having strong kinship bonds where individuals are embedded in extended family relationships and, in like manner, family members correspondingly relate to one another in a hierarchical and gender-segregated way. There is a sense of family purpose, belongingness, and of course, there is also the element of togetherness and interdependence, which governs the rules of corporate kinship relationships. Hall shows in this way that Canadian and American culture contexts, for example, are characteristically low context for adaptation by immigrants. That is, individual immigrants are challenged to build up new relationships in each new situation and the skill to do just that results in mental life requirements, stresses and disorientations.

Nigerian immigrants emerge from a high-culture context society and, as such, are faced with numerous life newness and adaptation strategies for resettlement. Baker (1993:268) suggests that physical, social, and cultural changes of resettlement create, on the one hand, a host of threatening situations associated with novelty. On the other hand, there are multiple losses rather than gains to bear by all those involved. The migrant, he further proposes, must be able to find his or her way around an unfamiliar social and cultural order. To perceive an unfamiliar culture as a social disorder is typical to immigrants and Nigerian immigrants are by far not vaccinated against that mental stress until order is found and adapted to. By making friends, learning a new language, getting a job, and establishing a network of support and home, the immigrant engages in a palliative cultural mechanism to come to terms with the losses and gains common to waves of migration. When a critical mass of immigrants with a shared ethnic identity converges in the same place or region, they tend to fashion something out amongst themselves in response to their settlement challenges. One such approach is to develop an ethno-cultural institution that will help them adapt the cultural ideas and practices brought with them en route to their new host and new situation. To spring from that now is the question of the roles these institutions are associated with.

Significance and Role of Diaspora Communities

A review of American and Canadian immigration history shows that immigrants from the same region of origin typically arrive in waves, settle in close geographical proximity to one another, and establish ethnic organizations (Baker 1993:268). Nigerian immigrants reflect this same pattern of arrival and settlement. Nigerians tend to consider it imperative to settle with, or near, their kin, both as a matter of culture and also because of requirements for sponsorship and settlement assistance. Analyses of residential patterns of immigrants, such as that of Hurd (1942), depicted how immigrants from the same region concentrated in a place. Ethnic organizations do not just form without a solid purpose. It does so as a means of creating opportunities for interaction and as a means for developing adaptive strategies that require internal networks of social communication. Beyond this view point, convergence of immigrants to a place intended to help meet a wide variety of individual and collective needs, including some emphasis on ethnic religion and parochial education that may focus on ethnic languages and heritages. A central problem faced by the children of Nigerian immigrants in Canada, for example, is the use of kinship terms, such as "uncle" and "sister." In Canada, of course, children consider themselves unmarriageable to a "sister," "uncle," or "brother," due to the Canadian understanding of the meaning attached to these relationship terms. A devolution and immediate de-contextualization of the mental subjectivity of such terms is required in order to cope with the psycho-cultural challenges such as this.

The role of ethno-cultural communities is immense. Flexible, yet inevitable, as it is that the social, cultural, economic, and political forces tend to drive ethnic communities to mobilize. Herberg (1989) notes that the forces of ethnic group cohesion include, but are not limited to, language and heritage retention, residential nearness or concentration, a desire to keep ethnic religious institutions, issues of marrying within the group (endogamy), creation of ethnic media, and organizational elaboration. The group voice creates identity actions, such as establishing some intense desire to not lose touch with one's roots. Bringing relatives from the place of origin over for visits and going home from time to time to "re-connect" are the types of things that help to generate a consciousness of attachment to one's culture of origin. Community vitality is, therefore, maintained through what Prof. Pantaleon Iroegbu termed "belongingness" (Iroegbu 2000, 2004). That is, a longing of an individual migrant or a group of migrants for life and existence in a community of others who are like them. Acting in this way in time and place in which the individual "belongs" to others and those others "belong" as well, gives the person a sense of existence and belongingness, or an identity of being integrated into an ethno-cultural life and world. In other words, one is nothing without the act of belonging, but is something with the act of being and belonging. That leitmotif and realization of belonging and becoming somebody - that is, a human person with life skills, social capital, economic means, and connections, increasingly allows one to avoid denial, isolation, and suicide - argues Azeez (Azeez 2004:253-258). This also highlights an individual's nature and quest for belongingness in ethno-cultural communities in the diaspora and at home.

Essentially, the role of diaspora cultural communities is to initiate a feeling of "home" and to provide a centre for mental convergence - that is, a sense of "we" through mental corroboration and support. In so doing, migrants will be happy to find a community of palliative mental coping responses to the pressures and challenges of their new life situations. Ethno-cultural communities provide migrants with the needed social support and psychological triggers of connection. Baker (1993:269-270) further asserts that ethno-cultural communities temper not only the amount and rate of (mental, emotional, psychosomatic) change experienced during resettlement, but also act as a source of assistance in providing facilitators to help other newcomers master the demands of establishing themselves in a new land. Belongingness, or becoming a full person, in the diaspora community, in short, helps in fathoming the processes of stress and mental reduction associated with migration and settlement. In other words, a key role of ethno-cultural communities in diaspora, in particular, among Nigerian immigrants is to provide an important, free-of-charge orientation and job connection services to people. This includes mediating concrete affairs of the settler, providing contacts, offering referrals, supplying introductions to institutions and individuals in the wider host country or region of settlement. Their role will, moreover, be sensibly productive by linking the settler to avenues for reaching out to those left at home. By and large, involvement with diaspora associations helps in making new settlers more conspicuous in the area of settlement. Non-involvement with ethno-cultural associations not only restricts, but also diminishes, opportunities provided by inter-cultural belongingness and cultural transactions meant to be helpful in limiting mental distress in settlement and in continuation of the struggles for survival and achievement.

It is a fact that the presence of a functional diaspora cultural association, by all accounts, is related to a decrease in mental opprobrium, as opposed to the consequence of increased mental troubles that prevail in the absence of such ethno-cultural associations (see also Baker 1993:272). Evidently, participation in the cultural, economic, and socio-political activities of a diaspora association also provides that much needed opportunity to showcase Nigerian cultures and its people. This is often the case for group based associations such as the Igbo Cultural Association of Edmonton during her inauguration in 2005, and even more so with the Nigerian Association of Alberta during each year's Heritage Festival (of Cultures) in the city. New immigrants to the region look forward to experiencing the reality of ethno-cultural communities acting on the need to represent and promote a combination of their ethnic and national heritages. A large-scale diaspora cultural association fosters a deep cultural sense and viable cultural sensitivity. In turn, an association as a collective thing not only helps in socializing the minds and personhoods of the participants but also provides an array of mental stress diminution. This suggests that isolated Nigerian migrants are less likely to be noticed and helped in coming to terms with the mental stresses of settlement. Isolation puts the lonely and un-mobilized individuals at greater risk for mental-health problems. Nevertheless, any absence of functioning diaspora associations can unproductively mitigate erroneous adjustment. But by offering inter-cultural services to the un-mobilized, lonesome, Nigerian migrants who are critically challenged to pursue a better, sustainable condition for survival and growth, one can quickly see the impact for social affinity and creativity such associations can open up for members to attain. The key emphasis here is that ethno-cultural systems should be armored and taken as a serious settlement dimension in the politics of mental life anxiety reduction and social support.

Strengthening Mental Settlement through Traditional Solution Approach

The decision to migrate by anyone can either be exciting or may be rough and tough. Yet it needs to be understood from the onset. Not only because it is a part of the process of going out and encountering a new way of life but because it is one which has the migrant to critically engage with a struggle with the unfamiliar cultural and social terrain. This challenge of unfamiliarity will, for a great deal of time, cause a battle with mental frustrations. The reason for this is clear - new people, attitudes, values, symbols, cultural systems, and thinking patterns cannot be mastered and accepted in a short time. Time and social effort will help to beef up the move to grapple with the situation. Again, it should be noted that suspicion of immigrants by others is a common cultural thing. Even though suspicion can be met and reduced over time; but in turn, it should be pointed out that the same suspicion from others cannot be ignored in the system of meaning of things. Suspicion and the meanings they carry consist in the cultural pattern and process of learning from, appreciating and even protesting against one another until sufficient confidence is established in the socially related settlement process.

To ease tensions, anxieties and misunderstandings as well as to reduce cultural hostilities between differing societies, unlimited participation therapy is considered as a sure means of successfully transacting the economic, political, religious, educational, cultural, and social realities in a new place. By participation therapy, I mean talking which involves mental involvement, reaching out, and counseling. Secondly, it also means doing which entails connecting to activities with physical and personal presence. By joining and becoming actively involved in ethno-cultural associations, one can explore the objective and subjective relevance by being part of the system in the new place of settlement. Even if one does not exist, it is suggested that settlers should start their own and advance their cause in the plural global context of social and economic survival.

Community leaders are not so blind as to not notice immigrants and the potentials they bring with them that can be tapped into. Making oneself available to community institutions and fora, resources and opportunities in turn provides the daring immigrant with the potentiality and capacity for quicker emancipation, connection, and integration in a new place. No one will take notice of an immigrant who stays at home, cocooned in complaints, predisposed to poor mental adaptation and who, in consequence, can only offer excuses and negative criticisms. How far would criticism take an immigrant who cannot offer solutions for change, opportunity, and growth? If an immigrant fails to generate conditions for desired change, opportunity, and growth, whom else does that immigrant imagine would do it for him or her?

These questions are critical to redefining and applying the concept of mental migration and settlement among immigrants, policy makers, and implementers. Getting involved and participating actively with diaspora associations will essentially highlight the positive opportunities and strategies for settling meaningfully and connecting nicely with the inside and outside individuals, groups, institutions, governments, and local and international corporate agencies for development. But the most important point is that it is fruitless to attend meetings and events only to argue over issues and spoil opportunities and approaches that are aimed at helping, not hindering (Iroegbu 2005:134) the innovations - whether social, mental, or material. Positive participation should be aimed at strengthening ethno-cultural associations for generations to come. However, diaspora associations should not be seen as centres where immigrants go to release their mental stresses in such a way that the behaviour generated becomes critical and inimical to the association's very purpose of being in the first place. Therefore it is important to argue that ethno-cultural associations are set up and managed for the members who cannot use it to seek for conditions for disconnection. Rather it is best for those who can use it to pursue a better state of affairs for connection, development, opportunity, and growth. Participants are charged to connect and deliver connections.

Psychotherapy - also called "talk therapy" - in respect to mental migration provides many handling options in the field of helping people to put themselves together. But these conduct alternatives are largely ignored by Nigerian migrants faced with mental difficulties resulting from settlement in a new place. Talk therapy, like participation therapy, as I have suggested and elaborated on, is a solution approach that has proven to benefit many people with a tendency for migration depression. Talk therapy will help Nigerian immigrants work toward changing the way in which they view the world, which, in turn, will help them relate and react to this new world in a positive manner. Talk therapy is not exclusive to talking with a psychiatrist or other qualified health-care professionals; successful members of the diaspora associations or ethno-cultural communities can also help Nigerians explore their relationships, feelings, and experiences in a meaningful way. That is, reaching out and talking with meaningful persons and/or groups can help individual immigrants interact with others and begin enjoying normal activities again - not to mention the significance of discovering new ones.

There are three main types of talk therapy. The first is called cognitive-behavioural therapy which helps a person or group identify negative thought patterns and behaviours and replace them with positive ones. This can quickly bring important changes to an individual or group's daily life and outlook for the future in a new place of settlement. The second is known as interpersonal therapy and it focuses on working through troubled personal and ethno-cultural social relationships that may contribute to the person's life changing condition/s. By learning how to deal with others more effectively, individuals may be able to reduce conflict in their daily lives and gain support from family, friends, and diaspora association members and activities. The third one is referred to as psychodynamic therapy. This form of therapy helps individuals to look within themselves to uncover and understand their emotional conflict zones and boundaries. To understand such areas of tension may assist to master the underlying contributing issues to their condition in a new area. And by actively working in partnership with diaspora associations, in addition to health-care professionals, mentally challenged immigrants may improve their chances of achieving and maintaining remission from mental depression and disconnection from the wider global settlement worries as they seek greener pastures.

Finally, taking an active role in ethno-cultural enhancement affairs also means taking care of oneself by making healthy, participatory choices for an empowered lifestyle. That is, by helping to celebrate small inputs and victories along the way, rather than searching for immediate success, one is kept well grounded in realistic expectations, change, opportunity, and growth. A meaningful discourse during Diaspora Day events to give a boost to diaspora cultural associations will by itself promote the psychological momentum of inclusion and participation and therefore stimulate the process of participation and development synergy for the home front.


I conclude this essay by stating the obvious - that mental health care in view of mental migration is a challenge for Nigerian immigrants. And the settlement question remains a valid one that is worthy of the search for answers. Strengthening the traditional-solution approach through positive involvement with diaspora associations will go a long way to making changes that support the mental wellness of the immigrant and his or her home - both new and old.

This paper has worked through the challenges and implications of the isolation and misunderstanding that migrants face in a new place. It has also shown that the traditional approach of using ethno-cultural communities is still unequivocally important and renewable. Equally, the paper argued that mental challenges may stem from ignorance or the inability to relate and contribute to, or maneuver through, interracial and intercultural terrain. Participation and belonging are critical in bringing out the human and cultural potentials necessary for creating and re-creating opportunities and growth in the settlement question. The good news is that, time and time again, the role which diaspora associations play does much more good than harm when participants give it their all. In keeping with this, participation therapy was offered as a solution for mitigating and softening mental migration anxiety among Nigerian immigrants in the modern world. This article calls on Nigerian immigrants to participate in discourse and action through ethno-cultural community immersion. Such is to promote the need to rediscover our sense of identity and community in the diaspora. The contention is that community life results in personal success, on the one hand, and it aides in development actions at home, on the other hand.

By helping regions where diaspora associations are either dormant or nonexistent, individuals and institutions can also add to the story of immigrant mobilization and yet assist in the critical development of consciousness across areas of settlement and cooperation amongst Nigerian immigrants, wherever they may be located. Every Nigerian matters, and this is even more important when it comes to mobilizing cultural and professional skills and experiences - in particular, for nationals and diasporans within the context of global connection. Thus, I strongly endorse as fact the idea that it is culturally right to strengthen the traditional solution perspective to settlement challenges and the embodied concept of mental migration and wellness for more meaningful change in the modern world. This is true because peoples' lifestyles change upon migration. As does their thinking, their mental and physical make-up, their acting out of things, and their experiences in relation to occupation and development, national, and human outcomes add up to the intrinsic and extrinsic forces of mental pain and change. Getting the Diaspora Day discourses to be part of the mental challenges will help, rather than harm the processes of settlement and adjustment, on the one hand, and in renewing life in diaspora for development at home, on the other hand.

Therefore, commemorating the Nigerian Diaspora Day for 2011 and beyond calls for deeper discourses on inter-cultural immersion than ever before in the new face of the hope for democracy and critical development in Nigeria through the eyes, skills, wealth, knowledge and experiences of Nigerians whose lives are diasporized. They are a bridge to somewhere for Nigerian and African development realization.


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The Author:

Patrick IROEGBU is a community health advocate and leader. A Social and Cultural Medical Anthropologist and lectures Anthropology in Canada. He is a published author of several books one of which is Healing Insanity: A Study of Igbo Medicine in Contemporary Nigeria (2010). His research interests include, but not limited to, gender and development, migration, race and ethnic relation issues, as well as Igbo Medicine, Social Mental Health and Cultural Studies. Contact by e-mail:


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