Author: slotpoll

Mental Health and the Immigrant Population

Historically, mental health has been a large taboo in U.S. society, but there is a growing number of movements and efforts to decrease this stigma1 and to assist American citizen populations with high prevalence rates of mental illness, such as those who have experienced war violence2. But what about immigrants who are experiencing issues with their mental health? Research shows that one in five people living in the U.S. identify as a first- or second-generation immigrant3. With immigrants being a substantial part of the U.S. demographic, it is critical that mental healthcare providers and mental health campaigns begin adequately addressing the unique needs of immigrant clients.


In addition to universally experienced stressors, immigrants may find themselves placed in severely stressful situations that can have a great impact on their mental health. These situations are oftentimes not circumstances an American citizen from an American origin family would experience. For example, immigrant children who experience the detainment of an unauthorized parent are at greater risk for depression and anxiety, and are overall 2.5 times more likely than children without a detained parent to have problems with their mental health4. The detained parents themselves also take severe hits to the quality of both their mental and physical health, due to the abusive tactics used in detention centers4.


While it is important to understand the uniquely severe experiences that can impact the mental health of unauthorized immigrants, it is also important to recognize the ways in which authorized immigrants experience decreases in mental health quality. For example, they may experience depression and anxiety due to feeling lonely in their new surroundings, being separated from family that remained in their country of origin, or dealing with the stress of existing in multiple cultures. These types of issues are related to the acculturation, or adaptation, process of immigrants3. However, other circumstances can also impact their mental health. For example, traumatic experiences endured during the immigration process can lead to PTSD and depression. Additionally, the inability to find employment that matches an immigrant’s expertise can cause anxiety, anger, and low self-worth3.


Many human rights advocates work tirelessly to lobby for policy changes that would improve the immigration process4, but what should be done in the mental healthcare industry to help this population? The APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration recommends clinicians use culturally sensitive diagnostic tools and treatments and recognize the role of factors such as migration experience and acculturation in each individual patients life3. Luckily, various mental healthcare providers are beginning to do just that. For example, the Northern Virginia Family Services Multicultural Center employs Arab-speaking clinicians who can communicate effectively with the Center’s Arab immigrant counseling patients. Saari Amri, one of the Center’s counselors, stresses the importance of validating patient’s acculturative stress and asking the patient about their specific experiences, rather than making assumptions based on their immigrant status5.


It is a step in the right direction that clinics such as the Northern Virginia Family Services Multicultural Center are starting to recognize and attend to the needs of their immigrant patients, but strides still need to be made in terms of culturally sensitive and competent practices being implemented in every mental health setting across the nation. It may seem daunting to implement all the actions necessary to adequately address the mental health needs of immigrant populations, but is absolutely necessary to ensure their wellbeing. Mental healthcare providers of all levels and types should take heed to the APA’s recommendations, and remain open-minded in order to provide the best treatment they can.







  1. American Mental Wellness Association. (2018). Fighting discrimination. Retrieved from
  2. World Health Organization. (2012, August 27). Risks to mental health: An overview of vulnerabilities and risk factors, 9. Retrieved from
  3. APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration. (2013). Working with immigrant-origin clients: An update for mental health professionals. American Psychological Association, 1-11.
  4. Brabek, K.M., Lykes, M. B., & Hunter, C. The psychosocial impact of detention and deportation on U.S. migrant children and families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84, 496-505.
  5. Meyers, Laurie. (2016, January 27). Immigration’s growing impact on counseling. Retrieved from

Community Contexts: The Role of Neighborhoods and Schools in Immigrant Youth Development

For most children, regardless of immigrant status, their neighborhood and their school are the places in which they spend the most time. However, the experiences and circumstances surrounding these contexts differ greatly for U.S. born children versus immigrant children. For example, non-immigrant children are more likely than immigrant children to attend preschool1. Additionally, non-immigrant children in the U.S. enter school already speaking English and are taught neighborhood values and beliefs from birth. However, many immigrant children must attend school while in the process of learning English and may take time to learn the community values and customs2. It is important to understand how immigrant children’s varied experiences impact their development, specifically in regards to circumstances in schools and neighborhoods.



In addition to lower rates of preschool enrollment, neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants have decreased access to quality childcare options1. But, even with these barriers to young childcare and education, neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants also possess qualities valuable to immigrant children. For example, social cohesion, or the trust and strong bonds that exist between neighbors, can be higher in neighborhoods with higher numbers of immigrants. This social cohesion can help mitigate the level of acculturative stress experienced by the neighborhood immigrant children1. Lower levels of acculturative stress can help children have smoother acculturative transitions and successes in school—for example, by being able to acquire the level of English proficiency needed to do well academically2.


However, it is important to acknowledge that not all immigrant children will experience this social cohesion. Additionally, not all social networks and bonds will have favorable effects on immigrant children’s academic achievements. When an immigrant child’s network consists of people who have limited levels of education, who do not speak English, or who do not know how the U.S. education system works, their academic success and development may suffer1. It is also important to acknowledge that immigrant status alone can act as a risk factor for instability in academic achievement2.


With all of these factors in mind, and the fact that immigrant children are the fastest growing population in the United States1, communities need to improve and increase support systems that focus on helping immigrant children succeed academically and developmentally. Many schools across the U.S. could take a page out of Utah’s book on how to better assist their immigrant students in these ways. The Granite school district in Salt Lake City hosts a two-week transition program, where newly arrived immigrant students learn important acculturative tasks such as how to behave during a fire drill, how to navigate the bus, and how to open their lockers3. The Granite school system also implemented classes for parents of immigrant children to help strengthen the children’s networks and academic support systems. These parent classes consist of English education, information about how the school system operates, what to anticipate during parent/teacher conferences, and interpreters should the parents need language assistance3.


There is no one easy solution to help immigrant children across the U.S. succeed in school in the face of acculturative stressors and neighborhood disadvantages. However, when school systems like Granite pay attention to the research on what immigrant families need in their schools and neighborhoods, more opportunities will arise for children and parents alike to achieve the success they are capable of and deserve.




  1. Leventhal, T. & Shuey, E.A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1771-1787. doi: 10.1037/a0036424
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F. & Masten, A.S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18, 126-135.
  3. Wicks, Annie. (2018, January 31). Lessons from public schools succeeding in helping immigrant students become Americans. Retrieved from

“Why Can’t They Just Learn English”: Challenges for Immigrants regarding Language Acquisition, Acculturation, and Documentation Status in the U.S.

Many immigrants face significant challenges in moving to the United States, yet it is unfortunately common to hear insensitive remarks about immigrants. Many Americans are concerned with immigrants’ effect on culture, and ask reductive questions such as “How will they learn English?” Many claim that immigrants are not even trying to learn English or adapt to U.S. The reality is that many immigrants actually are trying. However, English is a difficult language to learn and can take years to master.1 In terms of adapting to a new culture, it is not as simple as just learning English or understanding American social customs. There are many parts involved in interacting with and adapting to a culture different than one’s own, which is a process called acculturation.2 People who question why immigrants can’t just learn English are being insensitive to their efforts, and are not recognizing that language acquisition resources are not accessible or equal for everyone, especially in regards to language education for immigrant children.1


Acculturation does not only involve the learning of a new language, but also adopting the beliefs and values of the new country of residence. However, adopting these new beliefs does not equal losing the beliefs and values they acquired from their country of origin. The level of difficulty an immigrant may have acculturating to their new country of residence can depend upon how similar the new country and their country of origin are. As previously mentioned, many Americans judge immigrants negatively for speaking a language other than English. This means that for immigrants who come from an English speaking country to the United States, they may have an easier time acculturating and experience less discrimination, as language barriers are not an issue and they will not be judged based on language.2


Language acquisition and acculturation are long, difficult processes for immigrants. However, difficulties and discrimination that result from being unauthorized are some of the most limiting, and attitudes towards unauthorized immigrants are particularly negative in the United States today3. In 2014 there were 12.1 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S.4 These 12.1 million immigrants are experiencing unique stressors that accompany an unauthorized status. Many people do not take children into account when debating unauthorized immigration issues5, even though they are severely affected by growing up without authorization. Growing up in the U.S. as an unauthorized child or adolescent affects the ability to engage in activities or experiences that are considered important to an American’s identity, such as obtaining a drivers license or attending college. They also grapple with the issue of whether or not to expose their status to their friends—but it is also important to note that some unauthorized children are never told of their status until they are teenagers. Another unique stressor that unauthorized children deal with is the fear of themselves or their families being deported3. This fear unfortunately turns into a reality for many children, and has been the topic of news coverage constantly throughout 2018. Over the summer, unauthorized families who were detained at the Southern border of the U.S. were being held separately from each other. Children as young as only a few months old were being taken away from their parents for extended periods of time, which for such a young child is severely stressful6. Many unauthorized families watching these events unfold likely experienced an increase in the fear that already exists of being discovered and detained.


Overall, immigrants both authorized and unauthorized face a plethora of stressors, and many Americans are not sensitive to the length of time it can take to learn English or acculturate, nor to the fears that accompany being an unauthorized citizen. With so many immigrants in the U.S., it is imperative that people somehow become more educated about all of the different parts involved in immigrating and cultivate more empathy, instead of reducing the experience to “just learning English” or labeling immigrants as “alien”.



  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M. & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA, US: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. From: The Challenge of Language Acquisition
  2. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65, 237–251.
  3. Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81, 438–472.
  4. Baker, Bryan. (2017). Estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population residing in the United States: January 2014. Office of Immigration Statistics: Office of Strategy, Policy, & Plans, 1-9.
  5. Yoshikawa, H. (2011). Immigrants raising citizens: Undocumented parents and their young children. New York: Russell Sage.
  6. Domonoske, C. & Gonzales, R. (2018, June, 19). What we know: Family separation and zero tolerance at the border. Retrieved from

Blog Post 1

Now, more than ever, is a critical time for developmental psychologists and the public at large to understand the state of immigration in the United States. The number of immigrants in the U.S. has grown considerably in just the last 5 years, with there being around 39.9 million immigrants in the U.S. in 2013 (APA, 2013) and around 43.3 million in 2017 (CAP Immigration Team, 2017). Many of these immigrants hail from Mexico, Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean, and come with varying levels of education, skills, and language ability. And yet despite such a wide array of backgrounds and types of people immigrating into the U.S., immigrant populations as a whole are often painted in a negative light (APA, 2013). Attitudes towards immigrants today are especially controversial, with the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, publicly describing immigrants as infesting the U.S. and specifically targeting Mexican immigrants as being rapists (Simon, 2018; Reilly, 2016). Both the sheer number of immigrants arriving in the U.S. and the widespread prejudices against them are reasons why developmental psychologists and the general public should be concerned with how to help immigrants experience healthy development throughout their life.

People can understand how being discriminated against might hurts one’s feelings, but it is also important to understand how it affects one developmentally. People also might ask—what areas of development are impacted? Or even, what are the areas of development to begin with? According to García-Coll et al., areas of development for minorities—including immigrants—include environments like schools, community gathering spaces, and families. It is important to note, however, that areas of development do not only include physical places or things—they also include things like how an individual copes with racism, their temperament, and their ability to engage healthily in social situations and with their emotions (García Coll et al., 1996). With these areas in mind, it is easier to understand how discrimination can have adverse affects on an immigrant’s development. For example, several studies show that being bullied or discriminated against by peers is linked with more difficulty adjusting to school and lower levels of self-esteem in immigrants (Walter van Zalk & Kerr, 2014). This means they could exhibit poorer school performance, and having lower-self esteem could potentially result in inabilities to engage healthily in social situations or an inability to cope with emotions in a safe, productive manner. Regardless of what area is being impacted, it is crucial for people to be aware of how deeply discrimination can affect healthy development in immigrants.

With an understanding of how healthy development can be impeded by negative attitudes towards immigrants, it is then crucial to understand how to reduce such attitudes and discrimination. It is of course not up to developmental psychologists, unfortunately, to implement immigration policies, but they can conduct research aimed towards decreasing negative attitudes against immigrants. For example, studies have found that friendships between immigrant and non-immigrant teenage students are related to an increased level of tolerance and a decreased level of prejudice among those students (Walter van Zalk & Kerr, 2014). García Coll et al. also suggest that bilingual education could help immigrant children in terms of school performance and reducing language barriers within families (García Coll et al., 1996).

It may take a long time before discrimination against immigrants is eradicated, especially considering today’s political climate. But continued research by developmental psychologists regarding understanding and assisting with immigrant’s development, and the fellow understanding of the general public, can certainly help society move in the right direction.



APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration (2013). Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Journal of Latino/a Psychology, 1, 133-148.

CAP Immigration Team & Nicholson, Michael D. (2017, April 20). The facts on immigration today: 2017 edition. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition

García Coll, C., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., Mcadoo, H.P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H. & Vázquez García, H. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67, 1891-1914

Reilly, Katie. (August 31, 2016). Here are all the times Donald Trump insulted Mexico. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

Simon, Abigail. (2018, June 19). People are angry President Trump used this word to describe immigrants. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

Walter van Zalk, Maarten Herman & Kerr, Margaret. (2014). Developmental trajectories of prejudice and tolerance toward immigrants from early to late adolescence. Youth Adolescence, 43, 1658-1671.

Laura’s Biography

Hi, I’m Laura, and I’m a senior Psychology major! I am particularly interested in social class, sexuality, and maternal health & psychology. I have been involved in research on campus for the last couple years, doing analysis on how people perceive social class. Post graduation, I hope to spend a year or two working for maternal health non-profits and then attend grad school to obtain my PsyD. On campus I am the social media manager for The Peddler. In my free time I enjoy hanging with friends, reading, watching drag shows, and learning as much as I can about other areas of interest besides psychology (including queer literature, true crime, and feminist issues).