Immigration and Mental Health


With the current political climate the topic of immigration cannot be escaped. The fast changing U.S. policies that have been implemented most recently have already started to affect people’s perspectives on immigration and health care. With this in mind, one cannot help but think about the lives that are directly affected. Having attainable resources to maintain good physical and mental health is an imperative part to achieving a fulfilling and healthy life. For many immigrants who make the transition to the United States, however, the experience can often be overshadowed with homesickness, the hardship of learning a new language, and culture shock. Whether these personal experiences are internal in nature, or encountered externally through changes in our environment, we have all been acquainted with the outcomes of mental health issues. In ideal circumstances, any person could seek medical help and be referred to local resources in the RGV community to help ameliorate the process of dealing with these types of issues. Immigrants coming into the United States, however, do not always have the same resources. The acclimation process that immigrants go through can be taxing to the mind and body; the new environment can leave people feeling alienated, which can lead to improper directions on resources that are available to help them deal with this complex and life-changing transition.

Making the Transition

Many individuals and families migrate to the United States for an array of reasons.

Numerous are escaping violence, poverty, and many are reuniting with family members who have been living in the U.S. for a long time or seeking educational and economic opportunities.  The United States is home to approximately 40.4 million immigrants, according to 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. One in five individuals living in the United States is first- or second-generation immigrant, and almost one-quarter of children under the age of 18 have an immigrant parent (Mather, 2009) and current estimate of undocumented population is 11.7 million (Passel, Cohn, & Gonzalez-Barrera, 2013).

Once in the United States, immigrants may find it difficult to adapt to their new lives and settle into their new communities. It is stressful to learn new social rules, familiarize oneself with a new language, and possibly face discrimination. Given that anxiety disorders appear to be the most frequent mental health issue among immigrants followed by depression, addressing such issue in a culturally sensitive atmosphere can be imperative to reducing the frequency and severity of mental health disorders that this marginalized group experiences.

Immigrants in the age range of 18 to 25 are more vulnerable to suffer from anxiety and depression; 4 1/2 times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety when compared to the same age groups that have not made the transition to a new country. Although these mental health symptoms are prevalent in this population, the level of resiliency is clearly evident.

APAs Crossroads Report

In 2013, the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Immigration published Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century, “an evidence-based report on the psychological factors related to the immigration experience … focusing on factors that impede and facilitate adjustment.” The report was intended to facilitate decision-making in regards to immigration, which has become a societal, political, and legal issue in contemporary America.

The report outlined three guiding principles: (1) immigrants are resilient and resourceful, (2) immigrants are influenced by their social contexts and, thus, ecological circumstances should be considered when framing their experiences, and (3) it is essential to use cultural lenses with the diverse immigrant-origin population.

Services in the RGV Community

As noted above, the immigrant population are at a psychological risk level that can be alleviated with the right guidance and culturally competent services and support. Mental health providers in various settings are available in the greater Mission, McAllen, and Edinburg areas and often offer pro bono services that are available to the community. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in San Juan, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and UTRGV’s Counseling and Assessment Preparatory Clinic are some sites that offer counseling and support in a safe atmosphere. In addition, Texas Riogrande Legal Aid and ProBar offer pro bono legal services.

The availability of mental health outreach in our community can be underestimated but with the right information immigrants and their families can seek the professional and legal help they need for a smoother transition.


References available upon request

(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Paola Quijano, Cesar Martinez, Melissa Briones, Abigail Nunez-Saenz, Andy Torres, Bernardo Garza, & Armando Villarreal-Sosa)