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Workplace and security stressors and mental health among migrant workers on the Thailand–Myanmar border



Migrant workers in low-resource settings may experience multiple types of workplace and security-related stressors. This study explores the relationship between these stressors and adverse mental health outcomes, through a study of migrant workers from Myanmar, working in agriculture, factory, and sex industries in and around Mae Sot, Thailand.


Respondent-driven sampling was used to recruit a total sample of 589 male and female migrants. Trained data collectors administered a survey, which included measures of workplace and security-related stressors, and depression and anxiety symptoms. Multivariate regression models were conducted separately for depression and anxiety symptoms.


For male agricultural workers, security stressors (β = 1.9, p = .001) are associated with an increase in depression symptoms and coercive working conditions are associated with an increase in anxiety symptoms (β = .8, p = .000). For female agricultural workers, daily hassles and stressors were associated with both depression (β = 1.5, p = .000) and anxiety (β = .5, p = .027), and barriers to exit (β = 3.0, p = .005) and security stressors (β = .9, p = .010) were significantly associated with increased depression symptoms. In the factory subsample, sexual assault and abuse (depression: β = 2.7, p = .009; anxiety: β = 2.8, p = .002) and daily hassles and stressors (depression: β = .7, p = .007; anxiety: β = .7, p = .001) were both significantly associated with increased depression and anxiety symptoms for males. Other categories of stressors similarly showed different associations with mental health outcomes between occupational groups, and between male and female migrant workers.


The differing influences of stressors on mental health between the three occupational groups, and between males and females, indicate the need for targeted and tailored approaches to reduce specific stressors and improve services to address mental health needs. Prevention and response need to recognize the differences in working conditions, vulnerabilities, and needs between occupational groups, and between male and female migrant workers.

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The study was conducted as part of the Trafficking Assessment Project [TAP], a partnership between researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Social Action for Women [SAW], a Burmese community-based organization in Mae Sot. Funding for this research was made possible by (S-SGTIP-11_GR-0024) from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Department of State.

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Correspondence to Sarah R. Meyer.

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Meyer, S., Decker, M.R., Tol, W.A. et al. Workplace and security stressors and mental health among migrant workers on the Thailand–Myanmar border. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 51, 713–723 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-015-1162-7

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  • Migration
  • Mental health
  • Thailand
  • Myanmar
  • Stressors