“Let’s manage the stressor today” exploring the mental health response to forced migrants in Johannesburg, South Africa

Research themes




In South Africa, the majority of the population struggles to access care and support for mental health challenges. Drawing on challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees in the urban margins of Johannesburg, this paper aims to explore the relationship between migration and mental health through a lens of heightened vulnerability, precarious urban spaces and unmet basic needs.


Remote interviews were conducted with respondents working in the mental health-care sector (public and private) and with migrant communities in Johannesburg. Respondents were identified via purposive sampling and interviews were conducted in English. Key findings were identified using thematic analysis.


Effective responses to asylum seekers and refugees facing mental health challenges are based on an understanding of context, of crisis and of the need to meet basic needs such as paying rent, finding employment and providing for families. These “daily stressors” not only compound “extreme traumatisation” but are a form of trauma in and of itself.


This paper shows how alternative responses determined by an understanding of context, of crisis and of the need to meet basic needs provide critical and potentially far-reaching interventions. Locating trauma in the unmet needs, precarious urban spaces and marginalisation opens up space to further question the ways that migration and mental health shape and reshape one another.
Rebecca Walker, Jo Vearey
The full article published in the International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care is available here


Photo credit: Madoda Mkhobeni