May 23, 2008

The State of Migrant Mental Health 2008

Immigration law crackdowns and the growth of anti-foreigner sentiment in the United States are translating into increased psychological problems for migrants, mental health professionals and community leaders say.

“Hispanics live with fear. I see it every day in my clinic,” said Tanya Mundo, a therapist in Jefferson County near Denver, Colorado. “They are fearful of going out on the street and making use of their rights.”

An August 2007 study by Patrick Steffen, associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, supports the observations made by Mundo.

According to Steffen’s study, the fear of deportation or separation from loved ones results in anxiety, insomnia and depression. Lack of sleep, in turn, can lead to higher blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack.

Sentimental dates or special days like the recent Mother’s Day celebration can also trigger feelings of sadness, frustration and impotency. Separated by borders and travel restrictions, members of migrant families, especially individuals without papers, cannot easily visit relatives.

Grandparents and grandchildren come to know each other only through pictures or long-distance telephone calls. In many migrant families, anger, powerlessness and physical alienation arise from the denial of a travel visa at the US Embassy.

Although immigrants face an array of mental health issues because of their status in US society, few seek or receive any kind of professional help.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), only one in 20 Latino immigrants with mental health problems searches for help.

Of those who do get assistance, only one in four receive adequate treatment, according to the DHHS.

Even though the need for mental health services in the Latino and immigrant communities is greater than ever, few Latino professionals work in the field. In the United States, only 29 Latino mental health professionals exist for every 100,000 Latinos. In contrast, there are 173 mental health professionals for every 100,000 Anglo-Saxon residents of the country.

“The paradox is that at the same time the need is growing for Hispanic mental health professionals or at least culturally competent ones, due to the increasing number of Hispanics we see with mental health problems, very few of these professionals exist,” Colorado therapist Mundo said.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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