Mothers of emigrants more prone to depression, study finds

Increased symptoms recorded in group of older people whose children have emigrated

Mothers who had seen at least one child move abroad demonstrated increased symptoms in all three mental health categories

Mothers who had seen at least one child move abroad demonstrated increased symptoms in all three mental health categories

 

Mothers of adult emigrants who left Ireland during the recession are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues than those whose children are still living in Ireland.

A new report from Trinity College Dublin’s Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) has shown women whose children have moved abroad in recent years have experienced an increase in depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness.

Participants in Tilda, which is monitoring the health and well-being of more than 8,000 people aged over 50 living in Ireland over a ten-year period, were interviewed in 2010 and again in 2012.

Initial analysis of the data found that although they had seen the value of their assets drop by 45 per cent between 2007 and 2012, their overall health and mental well-being had not been negatively impacted by the recession.

But after a similar study in Mexico revealed the emigration of children had led to an increase in depression and loneliness in the parents left behind, the Tilda researchers returned to their data to see if they could find a similar pattern.

Of 2,911 parents whose children were all living in Ireland at the time of the first interview in 2010, 361 had seen at least one child emigrate two years later.

All participants were asked a series of questions relating to depressive symptoms - like whether they had experienced negative or positive thoughts in the week prior to the interview. They were also asked to self-rate their mental health, and about loneliness.

Parents of emigrants were on average younger, more highly educated and had better mental and physical health at the time of the first interviews than the parents of children who remained in Ireland.

But by 2012, mothers who had seen at least one child move abroad demonstrated increased symptoms in all three mental health categories, when factors such as widowhood, retirement, and a decline in physical health were controlled for.

Fathers tended not to exhibit the same mental health reaction, however. The exception was older fathers over the age of 65, who reported greater levels of loneliness after at least one child had moved abroad.

For all participants, widowhood had the most significant impact on mental health for both women and men, followed by declines in physical health, and retirement.

But there was no evidence that other major events affecting their children such as becoming unemployed, divorced, separated or widowed affected the mental health of the parent, which “offers an interesting contrast to the effect of the child’s emigration”, the researchers said.

Parents who saw more than one child emigrate were even more impacted, but it made little difference whether the children were male or female, or whether they had lived with the parent before leaving or not.

Parents of emigrants who had lived abroad for a period themselves in the past were were less likely to be affected by their child leaving.

“There is a narrative out there that this was a recession that impacted on young people, as negative equity and debt primarily affects young people,” said Alan Barrett of the Economic and Social Research Institute, who co-authored the study with Dr Irene Mosca of Trinity College Dublin.

“But we have now identified a group of older people who have suffered a mental health difficulty as a result of the recession, because of the emigration of their kids... Mental health difficulties often develop into physical health difficulties, so the massive increase in emigration in recent years has public health implications.”

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