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The centrality of social ties to climate migration and mental health

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Climate change-related hazards and disasters, known to adversely impact physical and mental health outcomes, are also expected to result in human migration above current levels. Environmentally-motivated migration and displacement may lead to the disruption of existing social ties, with potentially adverse consequences for mobile populations as well as their family members who remain in places of origin. We propose that the disruption of social ties is a key mechanism by which climate-related migration may negatively impact mental health, in particular. Existing social ties may provide social and material resources that buffer mental health stressors related to both prolonged and acute climate events. Preparation for such events may also strengthen these same ties and protect mental health. Communities may leverage social ties, first to mitigate climate change, and second, to adapt and rebuild post-disaster in communities of origin. Additionally, social ties can inform migration decisions and destinations. For example, scholars have found that the drought-motivated adaptive migration of West African Fulbe herders only occurred because of the long-term development of social networks between migrants and non-migrants through trade and seasonal grazing. On the other hand, social ties do not always benefit mental health. Some migrants, including those from poor regions or communities with no formal safety net, may face considerable burden to provide financial and emotional resources to family members who remain in countries of origin. In destination communities, migrants often face significant social marginalization. Therefore, policies and programs that aim to maintain ongoing social ties among migrants and their family and community members may be critically important in efforts to enhance population resilience and adaptation to climate change and to improve mental health outcomes. Several online platforms, like Refugee Start Force, serve to integrate refugees by connecting migrants directly to people and services in destination communities. These efforts may increasingly draw upon novel technologies to support and maintain social networks in the context of population mobility due to climatic and other factors.

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