chapter  2
24 Pages

Mental Health and Migration: The Case of the Irish, 1850s– 1990s


In her controversial study of mental illness in the west of Ireland, fi rst published in 1979 and provocatively entitled Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics, the American anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes asked somewhat facetiously with regard to migration: ‘Do the Irish have it coming and going, or rather going and staying? In short, are the Irish susceptible to schizophrenia, depression, and alcoholism wherever they live?’ And answering her own question, she stated, ‘Available data indicate that the Irish vulnerability to mental illness has, in fact, crossed the Atlantic’. Scheper-Hughes was suggesting that the high rates of mental illness she had found among Irish people during the 1970s were also evident among Irish immigrants in the United States.2 But what Scheper-Hughes did not mention was the fact that the United States was not the only country to which the Irish went where the phenomenon occurred: it was to be found also in England and Australia.3 Thus, in seeking to understand the mental health of the Irish, we must venture beyond the island of Ireland and encompass the Irish diaspora as well.