Psychosocial and mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown: A rapid qualitative study in migrant shelters at the Mexico-United States border

Ietza Bojórquez, Olga Odgers-Ortiz, Olga L. Olivas-Hernández



Introduction. Migrants could be at increased risk of the psychosocial and mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research is needed to assess their needs and the most useful interventions in this regard.

Objective. To describe the mental health consequences of the pandemic and lockdown measures among migrants living in shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, during the COVID-19 pandemic, barriers to mental healthcare during this period, and the key elements of psychosocial support provided by civil society organizations (CSOs), as described by shelters’ staff.

Method. In April-May 2020, we conducted a rapid qualitative study through interviews with persons providing services at eight migrant shelters, complementing the information with data from an ongoing ethnographic project. We situated the results within the levels of the United Nations’ Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) pyramid of psychosocial and mental health support.

Results. In addition to fear of contagion and economic insecurity, migrants experienced emotional distress associated with hardening migration policies, and the difficulties of having to find shelter in place in non-private spaces. Some CSOs continued or adapted previous psychosocial support activities, helping migrants navigate these issues, but other activities stopped amidst physical distancing measures and because of limited resources. Migrants themselves implemented some group activities. There was a surge of civil society initiatives of online support, but some shelters laeked the technological and other resources to benefit from them.

Discussion and conclusion. Migrants require a tailor made response to their mental health needs in the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the one provided by CSOs.


Mental health; immigrants; psychosocial support systems; Mexico

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