Immigration and Mental Health

I grew up in an urban community that was overpopulated, mostly with Latinos. My parents are first generation in the US. They came to this country in search of the American Dream. They came to the US illegally, not by crossing the border, but by plane. I am forever grateful because I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for their sacrifice. They had limited education. They struggled, working in all sorts of jobs, from cleaning houses, to factories. After a few years, they were able to obtain a green card and brought me and my siblings to this country.

America’s immigration issue has been a problem for decades with increasing concerns about Immigrants crossing the border. I hear the news, read the feeds and get angry like everyone else, especially when our current president is fixated on building the famous wall. This global issue hit a nerve when my 22-year-old client shared her horrifying story on how she suffers from PTSD due to the cruelty she experienced in the Ice Box, where she was detained for one month. She came to this country seeking asylum because she was kidnapped by gang members and her family was threatened.

What’s happening at the border is personal to me, not only because I am the second generation of immigrants in this country, but because the stories I hear day to day from clients are very real. I am not just listening to the news anymore, I am treating people who are terrified about their future and what might happen to their families. These individuals experience Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Isolation, and lack of sense of belonging. Their resources are limited. They are not able to travel to see their families, they are not able to drive, have good jobs or have health insurance.

It really hurts me to hear that there is a misconception of what Latino immigrants stand for. The majority are hardworking individuals whose only goal is to live better then they do in their home countries.  The mental health of these individuals is practically being ignored.

There are resources geared to assist this population, for instance, The Refugee Mental Health Resource Network, an APA interdivisional initiative led by Div 56 (Trauma Psychology) to help agencies and organizations working with refugees. Psychologists in the network’s database volunteer their services to asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, and internally displaced individuals. APA President Jessica Henderson Daniel, PHD, spoke out in May on the science behind this policy’s impact on children and families, noting in a statement reported in the New York Times that, “the administration’s policy of separating children from their families as they attempt to cross into the United States without documentation is not only needless and cruel, it threatens the mental and physical health of both the children and their caregivers.”

I can go on and on about this topic, there is so much to cover. I encourage you to continue to advocate for refugees, especially families who are pending separation or already been separated. Regardless of the outcome in court, your interaction with these individuals might be the only one you will ever have.

For more information as to how you can help contact REFUGEE MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCE NETWORK