Mental Health Concerns Get Lost in Immigration Debate
> 4/18/2006 9:02:30 AM

Sometime last month the debate about immigration went from slow simmer to full boil. Pushing the central issues aside for a moment, anyone with an interest in mental health would be well served to read this Kansas City Star story, published yesterday. The piece is a perfect example of how often times smaller issues can be swept up in the mounting storm of controversy surrounding other, larger debates.

As the Star piece explains, the spotlight on immigration has illuminated concerns regarding depression and suicidal ideation in the children of immigrants, and in particular, young Latina women. According to research by the Center for Disease Control, Hispanic girls are at the greatest risk of suicide. The same group reported staggering levels of depression, nearly 45%.

As discussed in the Kansas City Star story, there is a combination of factors that effect these exceptionally high rates of depression and suicidal ideation in Hispanic girls, many of which are intimately tied to issues of immigration. It is a swirling mix of cultural and political issues.

The Star writes:

In the U.S., the[ girls] say, they are the ones who, as “responsible girls,” are called upon to translate for their parents. They read the mail. They answer the phone. They interpret the bills. They take off school to go to help talk to doctors. They help their parents navigate the bus system or social services.

Boys are given greater freedom, they said, and girls are expected to be pious in more traditional Mexican ways, to restrict makeup, to resist dating, to cook when their parents work at night, to clean and to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.

The girls understand that the move to the U.S. has meant a better life, but even still they face stressors from so many angles: cultural pressures from their parents or new school friends, racism from other children or invectives now being hurled nightly on television. The pooling of all these issues leads to feelings of hopelessness and desperation.

No matter where the debate surrounding immigration goes at this point, there needs to be an increased awareness about how this is effecting the Hispanic children who many times are merely bystanders. The levels of depression measured by the CDC border on epidemic and have set the table for numerous other public health problems. It is highly unlikely that a neat and tidy solution will be found for any of these situations, but no matter the outcome, a greater awareness of what is happening can help prepare healthcare professionals for dealing with the fallout.

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