During the FGDs, participants discussed several factors that affect their mental health and wellbeing. These are presented under five different sub-themes namely: (a) families as a source of poor mental health; (b) unfair treatment at work place; (c) poor arrangement of accommodation abroad; (d) poor social life abroad; and, (e) loneliness and insecurity. Each theme is discussed in turn below.
Families as a Source of Poor Mental Health
Most participants reported that their families back home affected their mental health and wellbeing. There were two key issues highlighted by the FGD participants: (a) living far away from family; and (b) high expectations from family. The notion of not being able to help their families back home was frequently reported, for example, one female participant stated:
“I used to miss my children a lot. I always thought that because of poor economic condition I was there (abroad), leaving my small children in Nepal and at the most crucial time when they needed me. Despite of giving them love and education, I was there to earn. I was really struggling there for income, how to earn more in less time?… I really had a stressful life.” (FGD, returnee migrant, female)
Another participant refers to the pressure she felt having to work to make money for her family back in Nepal:
“…I had two small kids here in Nepal. …. At that time I could not leave the job because I had a responsibility of my family. I used to cry almost every day. I had even thought about suicide.” (FGD, returnee migrant, female)
Participants also argued that their families back home have high expectations of them, in terms of giving them presents and/or money, for example:
“Our family and relatives expect gift, goods and money from us saying ‘You have been to foreign for so long, you must have earned a lot, you didn’t give us anything’. This really causes mental stress on us.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
They stated that there is always a worry about the misuse of the money that migrants send back home which stresses them, for example:
“I worked hard [= abroad] and sent money for the family at home. There will be stress if they do not use the money in a proper way at home here in Nepal. In my experience, family related issues cause us mental tensions.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
Unfair Treatment at Work
Many participants had experienced some kind of discriminatory behaviours from their supervisors or employers, co-workers or house owners (landlords). They believed that compared to other foreign workers Nepali workers face more problems. Such discriminatory behaviours in their work could worsen their mental wellbeing.
“…there is a huge discrimination between senior and junior. Most of the time they [= supervisor] complained about us and tried to find weakness from our work so that we could not get overtime hours. Even if I did a good job then also either by mixing low quality products or by making error themselves, they tended to reject our work in front of the main boss. Our supervisor was jealous if we worked well and earned more. I feared to talk with seniors or even with co-workers due to the possible consequences.” (FGD, returnee migrant, female)
“I planned to commit suicide several times when they [= work agent] misbehaved [= physical torture].” (In-depth interview, male)
Migrant workers perceived that they were not only discriminated against in their host country but they also experienced discrimination from the recruitment agencies in Nepal. Upon their arrival in a destination country, migrants experienced a different reality to the one they had been expecting. One FGD participant explained:
“We had to work in a different place than we were earlier told by the agent in Nepal. They promised indoor jobs [work inside the company] but when we arrived, we were assigned work in road construction.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
“Agents asked us to tell lie in the Kathmandu International Airport…I got less salary than the manpower agency promised in Nepal.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
There was a consensus among participants that discrimination they face at work triggered poor mental health. They further argued that migrants were unable to report these kinds of unfavourable work environments to their employers or agents in Nepal due to the job insecurity.
Most of our participants believed that their employers undervalued the work of migrant workers and paid poorly and irregularly, some were not paid at all by their employers. They believed that the irregular or low payments increased their day-to-day costs of living in the host countries and Nepal. Some had colleagues who committed suicide, as one migrant shared:
“One of my co-workers committed suicide as he did not get salary. What else he could do? It had been almost 10 months he worked but did not get salary, neither did the company allow him to get back to home.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
One of the key interviewees argued that there is a need for research into this issue:
“We heard about deaths of migrants every day. Heart diseases and suicides are said to be common. A study is necessary to know more about why this is happening with our brothers and sisters.” (Key informant interview)
Workload and work pressure were frequently linked with poor mental health, for example:
“We had to finish given task on time…there was always a tight schedule, therefore sometimes not possible to complete on time. Temperature was high and people were tired of working in high temperature and humidity. Senior manager put pressure on us to complete the tasks at all costs. In this situation, workers became very stressed.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
Domestic workers mentioned that families who employ them may treat them badly, for example:
“House owners misbehave and shout at us. It feels that we were bonded labours. Please, help those Nepali migrants who are at risk there. … It was our mistake because we went there without getting permission from Nepal.” (In-depth interview, female)
Poor Arrangement of Accommodation Abroad
Most returnee migrants in the FGDs lived in poor accommodations with limited facilities. For instance, rooms were too small for the allocated number of people. Participants often mentioned lack of security, poor hygiene, such as dirty toilets and bathrooms. They felt that poor accommodation facilities as such resulted in poor mental health:
“Labourers [= migrant workers] had to live in a very bad [= dirty] place. Companies provided us the rooms or flat which were in a dire state. We had to live there like cattle. Sometimes we had to sleep on floor as mats or carpets were not provided. We felt very bad and our self-esteem was very low during that time.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
Interestingly, some participants argued that accommodation of Nepali migrant workers are generally poorer than the accommodation of migrants from other countries. One female returnee migrant shared:
“Accommodation for Vietnamese, Indonesian workers were well facilitated with high security, but for Nepali was very poor, in terms of both facilities and security. There was always danger of theft in our place. Once my mobile and money were stolen from my room. I always felt insecure and worried.” (FGD, returnee migrant, female)
Poor Social Life Abroad
Our participants explained that they had a very limited social life. They unanimously agreed that their quality of life abroad was not good. If men had any time at all for entertainment or recreation, they always spent it by worrying about their work, life, families back home or their debt, hence, they did not live happily. In contrast, most female migrants worked as a domestic worker and as such had limited time for entertainment. They were often not given days off or any leisure time. The families that employed female migrant workers usually forced them to work for excessively long hours every day.
“I had a very bad time there… I never attended a social programme of the Nepali community because I was not allowed to participate. I was always given some work with tight deadlines. If I had attended any social programme, I could have met friends and could have shared my pain…I had almost gone mad.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
Interestingly, some returnee participants from Malaysia said that Nepali workers were engaged in multiple affairs or sex partners. They argued that multiple affairs put women at risks of dying in Malaysia. This not only impacted the victim or their family in Nepal, but also affected psychosocial wellbeing of other migrant workers. One of them exemplified:
“I wondered why Nepali workers were dying there [= in Malaysia], why people were posting messages of suicide, dead pictures on Facebook. Some of our friends also had multiple affairs. When they date, their boyfriend kills them if they find out [= about relationship with others]. …. When we hear these kinds of things, we feel really worried because local people may see us collectively as loose character women.” (FGD, returnee migrant, female)
Loneliness and Insecurity
Loneliness was one of the factors triggering poor mental health in Nepali migrants. Participants argued that they were alone in a foreign country. Stress was generated due to being exposed to a new environment, new language or lack of confidence confined them within the premises of work or quarters, therefore, stressing them, for example, one returnee migrant shared:
“Loneliness is common after leaving home because we cannot speak with other people. We also don’t know where to go. But heavy workload, poorer than expected working conditions, and working full stop adds further stress.” (FGD, returnee migrant, male)
The heavy work load also restricted their opportunities to communicate with family back in Nepal,
“We always missed our family. Due to the workload, we could not talk with them whenever we liked… That made me feel sad.” (In-depth interview, returnee migrant)
Some argued that poor communication facilities with families had also impacted their mental health and wellbeing.
“There was no access to communications with families. We could communicate each other with family if we had access to phone. We did not have permission to use mobile phone. These are the causes of mental health problems among female migrants in the domestic work which brings suicidal thoughts.” (In-depth interview, female)
Some participants explained that there were feelings of insecurity and fear while living abroad which also impacted on their psychological wellbeing. They were less confident walking around the streets, shopping or making new friends abroad. Female participants highlighted that migrant women usually did not have any choice except working. They were physically abused, thus felt very insecure. They repeated that these unfavourable working environments are also sources of their stress and anxiety.