Children of Immigrants: What are their mental needs?

Generally, conversations about caring for parents begin later in life. Children of immigrants, however, tend to care for their parents across generations and stages of life. Since immigrants represent one-eighth of the U.S. population and children of immigrants represent one in four children in the country, it is critical to understand the immense barriers immigrants and their children face when attempting to access mental health care in the U.S.

Immigrant children often support their parents financially and emotionally during difficult times in an unforgiving U.S. system that leaves them without a living wage, health care, and affordable housing. At home and at work, they are often cultural and linguistic brokers for the survival of their families. In addition to setting high expectations for their children, parents also make incredible sacrifices, including migration, to ensure their children succeed. As a result, children of immigrants often feel enormous pressure to elevate their families and themselves to better lives while receiving little to no support from the state.

In comparison to their parents, children of immigrants experience more worry, stress, and sadness because of their complex identities as caretaker/child. In fact, the incidence of psychological discomfort in children of immigrants is nearly double (10.1%) that of their first-generation immigrant parents (described as feeling apprehensive, hopeless, restless or fidgety, worthless, unhappy, and/or that everything was an effort) (5.9 percent). These issues differ by ethnicity and gender, as well as race, socioeconomic situation, and legal status of the family. People of color make up the great majority of new immigrants to the United States, and both children and parents must navigate the country’s systemic and blatant racism. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are much greater in the offspring of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Latinx immigrants than in the general population.