Moving is stressful. Moving to a new country is even more stressful and produces a lot of anxiety. So many questions and concerns race through one’s mind. How do people live in this new place? Where do people buy food? How do people who speak different languages communicate? Will there be a support system for people moving in? How does one navigate government issues? The list goes on and on.
Having a support system to aid assimilating immigrants is vital to reducing their stress, but it’s rarely available to the millions who entered the United States. In 2016, 1.18 million people became legal permanent residents of the United States (Yearbook, 2018). 27% of the U.S. population is immigrants with U.S. born children. It is estimated that 11 million people are here without documentation (Zong & Batalova, 2017). The numbers are staggering, making it easy to see why support is not always available.
Research shows that immigrants face a host of stressors that negatively impact their mental health. Some of these risk factors include low socioeconomic status, language barriers, limited social networks, discrimination and acculturation (Revollo et al, 2011). Acculturation is the adoption of cultural norms by the immigrant, which has been linked to anxiety and depression. Learning a new language, navigating social norms and different lifestyles can be difficult and lead to changes in family life at home (Revollo et al, 2011).
A study found that first-generation youth face stressors such as separation from family, discrimination, loss of social status, exposure to traumatic events and changes in family values and roles (Potochnick et al, 2010). Immigrants also face unemployment and irregular status, adding to the list of stressors in their lives (Revollo, et al, 2011).
Undocumented immigrants or mixed status families are at an even higher risk of anxiety than documented immigrants. Youth and their families fear being separated and being sent back to their countries of origin (Potochnick et al 2010). Children have to deal with the possibility that their parents won’t be there when they get home from school, being forcibly taken or separated from their families, placement in the welfare system and racial profiling (Undocumented). Researchers have found that children often experience frequent crying, withdrawal, disrupted eating and sleeping patterns, anger, anxiety, depression, aggression and social isolation among other things (Undocumented). For children, experiencing these events can be traumatic and have lasting effects such as PTSD, distrust of authorities, difficulties forming relationship and poor school performance (Undocumented). In extreme cases, some youth turn to suicide (Undocumented).
A recent study looking at the mental health of undocumented Mexican immigrants in California found that nearly a quarter of the study participants had a mental disorder, especially anxiety and depression (McCaig, 2017). Many of these disorders are a result of the stresses of living as an immigrant. Luz Garcini, one of the study’s authors, told Futurity, a publication focusing on current research, that these findings highlight the need to develop and provide contextually and culturally appropriate aid for immigrants (McCaig, 2017).
Studies have found that acculturation can help ease anxiety, but it can also alienate the immigrant from their family and others in their cultural community (Potochnick et al, 2010). Social support at home and in school was found to alleviate much of the anxiety immigrant students felt; supportive teachers also played a positive role (Potochnick et al 2010).
Professionals and community members should offer support to those immigrating to the United States. When stress and anxiety are relieved people are happier and therefore more productive members of society.
McCaig, A. (2017). More anxiety, depression among undocumented
Mexican immigrants. Retrieved from http://www.futurity.org/mexican-immigrants-mental-health-1589972/
Potochnick, S., & Perreira, K. (2010). Depression and Anxiety Among First-Generation Immigrant Latino Youth: Key Correlates and Implications for Future Research. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 198(7), 470-477. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181e4ce24
Revollo, H., Qureshi, A., Collazos, F., Valero, S., & Casas, M. (2011). Acculturative stress as a risk factor of depression and anxiety in the latin american immigrant population. International Review of Psychiatry, 23(1), 84-92. doi:10.3109/09540261.2010.545988
Undocumented Americans. [Video/DVD] American Psychological Association.
Yearbook of immigration statistics 2016. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2016
Zong, J., & Batalova, J. (2017). Frequently requested statistics on immigrants and immigration in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states