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Migration and depressive symptoms in migrant-sending areas: findings from the survey of internal migration and health in China



China has experienced large-scale internal migration and growing mental health disorders. Limited research has examined the relationship between the two processes. We examined the association between labor out-migration and depressive symptoms of family members left behind in migrant-sending areas.


We conducted a multistage probability sample survey of Chinese adults in 2008 (“Internal Migration and Health in China”), including 787 people in rural migrant-sending areas. To study whether adults in out-migrant households were more likely to experience depressive symptoms (CES-D) than were adults in non-migrant households, we used multivariate regressions and adjusted for a wide range of confounding factors and for the complex sampling design.


Adults in households with labor out-migrants were more likely to report depressive symptoms than those in households without out-migrants, presumably a result of the absence of family members. However, monetary remittances from labor migrants buffered the mental health costs of out-migration.


Labor out-migration has important consequences for the mental health in migrant-sending communities. There is an urgent need to address the psychological costs of migration and to promote regular remittances.

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Correspondence to Yao Lu.

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Lu, Y., Hu, P. & Treiman, D.J. Migration and depressive symptoms in migrant-sending areas: findings from the survey of internal migration and health in China. Int J Public Health 57, 691–698 (2012).

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  • Depression
  • Mental health
  • Migration
  • Internal migration
  • Sending areas
  • China