3 February 2021.

Helping immigrants settle into well-integrated neighbourhoods may decrease mental health issues, according to new research from our 45 and Up Study.


Research snapshot:

  • Immigrants to Australia are 17% more likely to experience psychological distress compared to non-immigrants. 
  • Living in fragmented or socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods is associated with poorer mental health – regardless of immigrant status.
  • Immigrants with English as a second language or a low annual income have higher levels of distress.

Moving countries comes with big challenges, and language barriers, lack of social support and exposure to discrimination can all take a considerable toll on the mental health of immigrants. But when it comes to finding a new home in Australia, researchers have found the neighbourhood in which immigrants settle may have a significant effect on their mental wellbeing.

Almost one third (29%) of Australia’s population were born overseas, with the majority hailing from England, China, India and New Zealand. How Australia attracts highly-educated immigrants from around the world and helps them to settle and thrive here is a question that continues to guide Australian migration programs.

Dr Hossein Tabatabaei-Jafari, Research Fellow at the Centre for Mental Health Research, ANU, says studies have shown that living in socially-connected communities where we know our neighbours and build strong social links is good for our mental health.

“But immigrants leave all of their social supports from their original society behind,” says Dr Tabatabaei-Jafari. “The effect of losing this social-connectedness and solidarity on immigrants’ metal health was a gap in the literature that our study aimed to address.” 

After analysing data from over 228,000 participants of the 45 and Up Study, Dr Tabatabaei-Jafari and his team found that immigrants were 17% more likely to experience psychological distress compared to non-immigrants. Living in fragmented or socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods was also linked with poorer mental health – regardless of immigrant status. However, immigrants to Australia with English as a second language or a low annual income were most likely to suffer from mental health problems.

“Our study showed that living in fragmented neighbourhoods is associated with higher psychological distress, and therefore helping newcomers to settle in areas with higher social connectedness will help them to better settle and contribute to the future of Australia,” says Dr Tabatabaei-Jafari.

He also says the research wouldn’t have been possible without access to the 45 and Up Study’s large dataset, which provided detailed information of immigrants and non-immigrants across NSW neighbourhoods with different social characteristics.

The study concludes that immigrants are vulnerable to mental health issues and the area in which they live is an important factor to consider when helping immigrants settle in Australia.

Read the full study here.

The 45 and Up Study is the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s made possible thanks to 250,000 dedicated participants across NSW, who are kindly sharing their health information with us to help create a healthier Australia.

Find out how the Study is powering other research into mental health and cancer.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on the study, sign up for our newsletter or explore more of the research here.

*Readers seeking mental health support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or visit Beyond Blue.