“Mental health is important for Trapped Populations.”

  • 2020•04•20     Bhola Slum, Bangladesh

    © UNU-EHS / Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

    Dr. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, senior migration expert at UNU-EHS who studies the concept of ‘Trapped Populations’ in the context of climatic changes extensively, just published her findings in the Nature Research’s scientific journal “Palgrave Communication”. She spent years investigating Bhola Slum, in Bangladesh, to untangle people’s (im)mobility behaviors, well-being and decision-making process in the context of environmental changes. 

    The concept of Trapped Populations has, until date, mainly referred to people ‘trapped’ in environmentally high-risk rural areas due to economic constraints,” says Ayeb-Karlsson, “and very little empirical research so far has been conducted on the emotional and psychosocial aspects of the diverse states of immobility, and particularly in urban research settings. But in order to develop sustainable climate policy frameworks, we need a more people-centered local understanding on how climate change influences people’s well-being and mental health.

    In her research, Ayeb-Karlsson used Q-methodology, which is a research method applied within psychology and social science to investigate people’s viewpoints, attitudes and understanding around a specific topic, combined with Discourse Analysis. 

    When people migrated from Bhola Island, partly due to environmental changes such as cyclones and riverbank erosion, they named their new settlement Bhola Slum, after their home. One element of the study showed how, once there, many found themselves subjectively ‘immobile’ after having been mobile – unable to move back home, and unable to move to other parts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, or beyond.  

    People reported facing non-economic losses due to the move, such as identity, honour, sense of belonging and mental health. These psychosocial processes helped explain why some people ended up ‘trapped’ or immobile. The psychosocial constraints paralysed them mentally, as well as geographically. 

    Bhola Slum captured a long line of mental ill-health descriptions, such as anxiety and acute stress reaction to eviction risk, depression and apathy due to the loss of identity and belonging, or trauma and PTSD in relation to physical and psychological abuse. The lack of well-being often related to new urban (and gendered) risks such as the working conditions in the garment factories, or the living conditions in the slum. “The study clearly illustrates how people’s, and in particularly women’s, immobility go far beyond economic constraints,” says Ayeb-Karlsson.  

    We know how to treat mental ill-health and disorders, such as trauma, depression and anxiety. More political and financial efforts must be made to ensure that climate-induced migrants, displaced and immobile populations have immediate access to psychological support upon their arrival,” concludes Ayeb-Karlsson. “We need more climate migration research to incorporate mental health questions.”

    Ayeb-Karlsson’s findings have been published in Nature Research’s Palgrave Communications. Read the full open-access article here.