The life of the average immigrant and undocumented individual is anything but easy or average as the transition to a new culture and country can bring many challenges and obstacles. Among the many dilemmas faced, one of the most prevalent and overlooked issues among this community is the lack of treatment and diagnosis of mental health disorders developed during pre and post migration.
During the migration process to the United States, there are many factors that contribute to the overall wellbeing of individuals planning to make this transition. Environmental circumstances such as ongoing warfare, violence, poverty, and domestic violence are commonly experienced in the home country and can take a great part in the manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and security attachment issues. Additionally, when finally arriving in the United States, other experiences such as loss of family connections, change in social status, and the adjustment of a new culture’s customs can further add on to pre-existing mental disorders and possibly even be a cause of complications in one’s physical health.
With the increased risk and prevalence of these mental health disorders affecting this community, this brings to question as to why there is no help being sought out and if there is even recognition of the occurrence of these issues. However, immigrants and undocumented groups are less likely to seek any mental health treatment and help due to fear of it negatively impacting their citizenship status and the effect it could have on their social standing given the stigmas surrounding the existence of mental disorders in certain cultures. The fear of the theoretical or unknown is a valid and unfortunate reality for most who feel as though they cannot risk their status for anything, even if it means putting aside their health.
While many may turn to holistic treatments and alternative ways of coping, they still can seek help, guidance, and treatment through mental health professionals without feeling threatened or insecure. In fact, there are even many non-profit organizations, such as the Alliance and the Hope Community Health Clinic, dedicated to enriching the lives of our most vulnerable communities by aiding with treatment costs and finding the care that is needed.
There are also many benefits associated with mental health care that go beyond the scope of mental health in immigrants and into the overall process of becoming familiarized and comfortable in a new place to call home. As previously mentioned, acculturated stress and post-traumatic stress disorder can very well build up over time when it is untreated. Through the use of therapy and counseling, however, it is easier for those struggling to gain a better understanding of their experiences and how they apply to their pre and post migration journey.
Receiving mental health care can also ease the transition from a different culture and create a different perspective of life in a new environment. This is especially evident in those who are being treated by individuals of similar cultural backgrounds. In fact, there are new phone apps and websites such as HUED and Ayana to name a few that specifically match those seeking health care with doctors who share the same gender, race, ethnicity, home country, religion, and even sexuality. The use of healthcare matching apps is very beneficial in terms of providing a safe space for those who are starting the process of evaluating their mental health needs. Having a provider that is able to empathize with their circumstances and resonate with their cultural experiences, allows them to comfortably and securely work through their issues without any barriers or fear of not being completely understood. It lessens the divide that they face when coming to America and helps them move on from the trauma and fears that have followed them when they have someone who can provide care in every respect.
In terms of citizenship status, mental health and clinical evaluation screenings can also help with obtaining immigration waivers such as T-Visas, U-visas, extreme hardship waivers, political asylum, and VAWA. Through the approval of the patient, the information obtained through treatment and clinical sessions can be used in a court of law to prove that there would be a detrimental effect on the individual’s mental health, safety, and overall well being should they be deported. This would allow for a greater chance of staying in the United States and overall lessen the stresses and anxiety that comes with deportation and familial separation fear
Although seeking mental help can be a challenge and battle within itself, it is one that is worth fighting for. Immigrants should not have to sacrifice basic human rights in order to feel safe in a country that is supposed to help them; They should not feel afraid or alone in the mentally draining struggles they are faced with, nor should they be left to understand and fend for themselves. Our immigrant, undocumented, refugee, and DACA community are important, valid, members of society, and deserve to live a life free of mental, physical, and environmental hardships. Taking the first steps to better one’s mental health is the first step to living a better life overall.