Episode 32

Migration, Discrimination, and Mental Health Issues through Scientific Lens

As we near the end of our series on mental health, we hope to continue bringing you new perspectives on topics related to mental wellness. To learn more about mental health from a researcher’s perspective, we spoke with Shadia Rask, research manager at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Shadia’s interest in psychology during high school led her to a career as an occupational therapist, where she observed the impacts of mental health on the daily lives of those she helped. After earning her master’s degree in international health and her PhD in public health, she began working with THL studying the relationship between mental health and migration.

Shadia points out that migration is connected to immigration as a process and a journey. She believes that media representation of immigrants is distorted, with individuals depicted as representative of the entire population. She also points out that this portrayal of immigrants in the media plays a big role in stigmatisation. She would like to work towards increasing positive representation, which she believes is essential for building strong role models from diverse populations.

Her work focuses mainly on Russian, Somali, and Kurdish populations. She pointed out that mental illness is a large problem for the general population, and not just for migrants, citing a study that shows one-third of the population of the EU suffers from a mental disorder each year. However, Shadia acknowledged that migrant and female populations are disproportionately affected by mental illness, with 1 in 2 Kurdish origin women, 1 in 4 Russian women, and 1 in 10 Finnish women reporting severe mental illness symptoms.

Because certain populations are affected more than others, Shadia explained, It is important to focus different sub-groups of populations and take individual approaches to confronting mental health challenges. For example, undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are vulnerable to mental health challenges because of their exposure to harsher conditions and loneliness. To address this problem, her role focuses on understanding impacts of migration on mental health, and creating solutions where possible.

One factor associated with immigration, discrimination, has been shown to severely impact a person’s mental health. In fact, a correlation has been shown between perceived discrimination and instances of mental illness. Middle East and African countries tend to be most vulnerable, and affected individuals may show symptoms of anxiety and depression. To combat the negative effects of discrimination, Shadia believes that change is needed on many levels: from social services, to representation, to improving paths to legal immigration.

During more than a decade of work in the field, Shadia has contributed to important research impacting the lives of vulnerable individuals. She continues to work towards improving mental health services for all residents of Finland. Press play to hear Shadia’s take on the impacts of media representation on the stigmatization of mental illness, the need to increase accessibility to mental health services, and more.


Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare Homepage

Recent Study Mentioned by Shadia on the Underrepresentation of Immigrants in Finnish Mental Health Services and Rehabilitation

Recent THL Mental Health Research