“They don’t have a reason to be depressed.”
“I’m the one that went through something stressful.”
“I give them everything here in the US.”
Even though the process of immigration can bring a lot of stress for the person navigating the new change and challenges, it is actually the children born in the US, from immigrant parents (second-generation immigrants), or those who arrived at an early age (1.5 generation immigrant) that show the worst mental and physical health outcomes. For example, research shows that second-generation Latines are almost three times more likely to attempt suicide and over two times more likely to engage in repeated marijuana use. This has been called the immigrant paradox.
Why does the immigrant paradox happen?
- Difficulty fitting in. Children born in the U.S. whose family is from another country can have a hard time finding their identity. Many share they frequently feel like they don’t belong in the U.S. culture or to their family culture.
- Acculturation gap. Children born in the U.S. often take on the new culture and language faster than their parents. This can sometimes lead to stress and conflict in the home.
- Racism and discrimination. Second and 1.5-generation immigrants often have more contact and interaction with the U.S. culture, and therefore can experience more chronic discrimination and racism.
What can we do?
- Validate. Let children know they are not alone in their experience and validate that navigating two cultures is difficult. Sometimes just expressing you understand and normalizing the emotion can be helpful.
- Racial-ethnic socialization. Help children understand and value their culture and family background. For example:
- Social and family connections. Developing close family ties and social networks within the immigrant community has been shown to protect children’s mental health by providing a natural support structure.
- Bilingualism. Research supports the benefits of biculturalism and bilingualism in the home to preserve immigrants’ strengths.
- Advocate for system changes. Children and adolescents of immigrants are less likely to seek mental health treatment. This is because of systemic barriers, such as poverty, lack of insurance, cultural and language barriers, and not enough mental health resources in their communities.