Immigrants constitute about 15 percent of the U.S population, which amounts to more than 325 million people. Immigrants often migrate to the United States from many diverse backgrounds, cultures, values, beliefs, and practices.¹ While the individual reasons for migrating may vary, all immigrants share the experience and stress that comes with the immigration process, which also has long-lasting effects on mental health.¹ Not only does the immigration process include departure from the country of origin, a potential period of separation from family and familiar cultures, but also causes immigrants to be completely immersed in a new environment and forces them to navigate unfamiliar customs.¹ This experience can lead to a decline in an immigrant’s mental health status, along with bouts of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious mental illnesses.¹
Another similarity between immigrants during the migration process is the acculturation gap that may grow between parents and their children. ¹ Frequently, children adapt to the new culture much quicker than parents due to them being more frequently exposed to modern norms of the culture through movies, music, TV, and school. ¹This may cause a deep cultural division between parents and their children and lead to conflict in the house. ¹ For example, arguments about dating, friendships, marriage, gender roles, and career choices may ensue because of the differing understandings. ¹ For the immigrant child, it can be difficult to combine the more traditional side of their parents with the new culture’s expectations that they experience outside of their home. ¹ This also makes it difficult for immigrant children to seek help or advice because they may be surrounded by conflicting ideas, and their parents may not be aware enough of the new culture’s customs to help them. ¹
Many immigrants are living with the continuous fear of being deported and having their lives completely change again if they are discovered by the authorities to be living there undocumented. The combination of fear, stress, and trying to adapt to a long work schedule in order to support themselves and their family can cause many mental health difficulties for both parents and their children. The family’s unauthorized status is especially difficult for the children as it affects their emotional wellbeing, academic achievement, and developmental growth. ² Approximately 4.5 million U.S. citizen children live in a household where at least one member of the family has an unauthorized status. ² Studies found that children of unauthorized immigrants are more likely to report fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, abandonment and posttraumatic stress symptoms. ² There was a greater risk of developmental delay and school readiness, and children were not medically insured and were less likely to visit the doctor and be in good health. ² Even though the children may be eligible for services, the fear of revealing the family’s immigration status and possibility of deportation keeps the parents from applying for public assistance or seeking medical care for them. ² With all of the challenges that immigrants face that induce serious levels of stress, it is very important to have the right mental health support.
In order to help families in the process of immigrating, mental health services must understand the cultural differences and be more culturally sensitive. ¹ By understanding the severity and stress of the immigration process, as well as the fear of deportation, they can be better equipped to provide the best support. ¹ It is especially critical for the mental health providers to be aware of the immigrant’s background, understand the immigrant’s experience to be able to communicate with them in order to deliver the proper mental health support. ¹
- APA Presidential Taskforce on Immigration (2013). Working with immigrant origin clients: An update for mental health professionals.
- Brabeck, K. M., Lykes, M. B., & Hunter, C. (2014). The psychosocial impact of detention and deportation on U.S. migrant children and families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(5), 496–505. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000011