Having a child abroad is a point of pride for many families, but it's a situation that may also have unintended consequences.

PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania’s College of Health and Medicine (Sydney campus), Deependra Thapa, is investigating how the migration of adult children affects the mental health of older parents who are left behind in their home country.

Mr Thapa came here from Nepal to study his PhD.

One of the main reasons I joined the University is because of an ideal research environment in the University of Tasmania. Another reason is my supervisors' expertise.

The main research question that I want to answer is whether the out migration of children is associated with the mental health of their older parents.

“In traditional societies like Nepal the children are the ones who are supposed to take care of their older parents,” he said.

Culturally, the family, even the grandchildren, live in joint households where the children provide instrumental and financial support to their parents.

These traditional values are being eroded due to more young people going abroad for education or employment, and not always returning.

Mr Thapa’s research has found that left-behind parents are at increased risk of mental disorders, and parents’ pride at their children seeking opportunities abroad may be mitigated by the loss they feel when their children leave. 

Mr Thapa examined the existing academic work on the topic and found a clear gap in the literature such as the limited scope in defining left-behind; not including migration-related variables (including place and purpose of migration); and no systematic analysis of risk factors of psychological health among the left behind elderly. Mr Thapa said it is clear that the issue needs further investigation. 

My research will fulfil an important knowledge gap in international migration literature on the left-behind elderly parents, thereby advancing our understanding of the out-migration of adult children and the implications for the wellbeing of the parents.

“By identifying the potential risk factors which may have an influence on their psychological wellbeing we could plan and implement interventions to improve their mental health.

“Nepal provides a unique context for the study because of the increasing number of older people and rising mental health problems in this group. This study has global implications as migration is a global issue,” Mr Thapa said. 

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