Immigrants and Mental Health

Published by Program Manager on

Immigrants and Mental Health

At BIIN, we strive to serve the immigrant community. Mental health challenges are often overlooked in immigrant communities and have hindering effects on individuals as well as their children. 

One of the main mental health struggles for immigrants is cultural adjustment issues. A lot of the time, immigrants can internally be grieving the country, life, and culture they left behind. They have come to an entirely different world that they have to slowly learn to navigate through. If someone is struggling with cultural adjustment, this may cause them to experience feelings of frustration, loneliness, and isolation.  A firsthand account of this experience is as follows:

Being in a new geographic place, speaking a new language, and being far from my family have been challenging. The physical distance from my friends and family from my country has been a challenge, and I have put effort into building a community in the United States. I have been fortunate enough to have a community supporting me before I arrived in the country and a group of friends and colleagues surrounding me, making the experience better.

Another mental health struggle of immigrants is the stigma around the topic.  Mental health was described as an idea “that was not very realistic in my Hispanic household. We were taught to get distracted and put our brains to work because if we were at a place where we were feeling sad or down we were putting too much thought into that one thing instead of focusing more on productive matters.” This emphasizes the fact that seeking support for mental health struggles is discouraged. Those who actively try and seek help may be shunned or criticized so they may stop trying. 

Racism and discrimination are also factors that can have major consequences on an immigrant’s mental health. Examples of these factors include hate crimes and stereotyping. This can lead to negative feelings that include sadness and fear. Racism and discrimination can also negatively impact the children of immigrants. “When I was little I got bullied for only speaking Spanish. I learned English when I was in 5th grade, and I felt insecure about my accent but my parents always made sure I felt proud of my roots. I often struggled with English homework growing up because I couldn’t get much help from my parents since they know only a little bit of English. I became independent at a young age but I still struggled and kept some things bottled up. Even now I still bottle things up inside of me.

Being a child of immigrants also has many implications for the mental health of an immigrant’s child. The things they see their parents go through shaping them as they are growing up. “My dad is a man who has always worked construction long hours of physical labor in the scorching sun or the occasional winters we get. My mom for most of her life has worked in the kitchen which you can imagine is also a hot environment and takes a physical strain on her. Because I know that my parents work physically draining jobs and I have the privilege to go to college and have office jobs I have grown to fill my plate as much as I can I don’t believe I have a right to complain about being tired and I know it might seem bizarre but I will mentally drain myself to the point that my body will become physically tired. It is extremely hard for me to ask for help and I won’t ask unless I am at that point of defeat.

Based on their parent’s experiences and what is seen in the media, children of immigrants do tend to always be on alert and are extremely careful in their day-to-day life. A real-life example of this is as follows, “they think growing up and even now [they are] always on alert when it comes to authority figures (Police, immigration, etc.) and don’t think this would be something so triggering if they were not an immigrant. They have a constant need to always carry their important documents with them to be able to identify themself at any point in time if needed. Documents such as their passport, SS, etc. They often think twice about the things they do because they know the consequences for them and their family could be greater in comparison to how it would be if they were not immigrants.” 

However, the things that children of immigrants get from their parents are not all bad. Immigrants are the hardest working groups of people and everything they do is commendable. 

My parents’ work ethic and resilience have been something that has been passed down to me as their child. Being able to perform in different environments despite the obstacles that might come. Being able to problem solve on the spot is something I grew up seeing my parents do and now I believe I have mastered this ability myself.

In conclusion, it is really important to recognize that the mental health struggles of immigrants can occur in a variety of different ways and intensities. Immigrants should be approached with resources and support to help them battle these things as well as help them adjust to their new country. 

Thanks to Minha Shabbir, our IRA Spring 2023 intern, for interviewing and writing this piece.