Accepted Paper:

Migration, stress and resilience: how African migrants in Switzerland try to stay healthy  
Silvia Büchi

Paper short abstract:

Our African-Swiss team explored health concepts and activities of resilient migrants. We look at their understanding of 'staying healthy' under difficult life conditions as a task and their interpretation of their difficulties as 'stress', a popular illness concept in Switzerland.

Paper long abstract:

Despite growing demand for changing research perspectives since the 1992 WHO-Conference "Migration and Health", only few researchers studied health and wellbeing of migrant people instead of disease and illness. Very little is known about the experience of health and daily health activities of migrants. Our qualitative research, carried out 2004/2005, aimed at knowing more about resilience and health resources mobilised by migrant people. The mixed African-Swiss research team explored health concepts and daily activities of resilient African women and men living in Zurich and Basel through in-depth interviews and participant observation. Based on these case studies, resarch instruments for a participatory rapid assessment were developed and tested in group discussion. Data were analysed in an iterative process of team discussion.

The studied African migrants understand health as dynamic and multidimensional. Staying healthy is closely related to various personal, social and material resources they mobilise in response to the demands of difficult life conditions. Resilient migrants in our study have appropriated the illness concept of stress, popular in Switzerland and Europe but hardly known in their home countries. The concept of stress not only gives meaning and helps to explain their bodily and emotional symptoms, it also offers an agenda for action and their feelings of social belonging in the host country.

(This research project was supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health in the context of his strategy "Migration and Health 2002-2007", which aims for a better understanding of migrant health and illness and for a better access to the Swiss health services for the migrant people)

Panel W098
Policy and practices of health care in a migrant context