Select Page

The mental health consequences of deportation

by | Apr 18, 2017 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

A student, Abby Harrison, sent along an article, ‘The Trauma of Facing Deportation’, that poses important questions for the class, and perhaps for anthropology in general. The article describes how children facing deportation fall into conditions of apathy, unable to get out of bed. The class this semester hasn’t really considered mental health issues in relation to development and humanitarianism–both that of aid recipients and aid workers–and that’s something that needs to be changed in the course design next year.

The article is also a caution to anthropologists, as it points out how a focus on ‘culture’ can write out political economic and inter-cultural dynamics. It’s important to remember that our work is not simply to explain a phenomenon based on some cultural particularity or culturally essentialist reason, but to understand how that phenomenon has come to exist at the intersection of various political, social and historical processes. Here’s the excerpt in mind:


The Swedish government’s report proposed that the apathetic children were from “holistic cultures,” where it is “difficult to draw boundaries between the individual’s private sphere and the collective domain.” They were sacrificing themselves for their family by losing consciousness. “Even if no direct encouragement or directive is given,” the report said, “many children raised with holistic thinking may nonetheless act according to the group’s ‘unspoken’ rules.”

The report seemed to ignore the influence of Sweden’s own culture on the illness. When the Swedish government sent doctors and sociologists to visit Kosovo, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, to find out if the illness was a culturally specific way of reacting to trauma, local doctors said that they had never heard of such symptoms.

1 Comment

  1. Abby Harrison

    Yes, this was what I found interesting and significant, that the Swedish researchers did not think to investigate their own cultural frameworks. Seems a fairly intuitive observation given it reports that this phenomena has only occurred in Sweden. A shame that there is a continuation of the idea that ‘irrationality’ (a reaction to a situation that has no clear scientific causation) cannot possibly come from European cultures. Perhaps showing how hooked on western science/medicine ‘we’ are.