The Mental Health Struggles that Immigrants Face

This adjustment period is challenging as immigrants strive to integrate into American society while preserving their cultural identity

Immigrant mental health

Photo: Pexels/ Fernanda De Freitas

As a Latina who grew up with an undocumented immigrant mother, I know what it means to face certain struggles as both an immigrant and undocumented one. Although I was born in the United States, my experiences were deeply intertwined with my mother’s immigrant journey, as that was the reality I knew especially being the eldest daughter. I grew up believing that all families lived in fear of deportation and struggled as we did. It wasn’t until I reached college that I realized my experiences, while normalized within my small bubble, were indeed unique.

Reflecting on Immigrant Heritage Month, I feel proud of my lived experiences, despite their many challenges. This month is a time to honor the numerous contributions immigrants have made to the United States and celebrate their diverse heritage and culture. However, we must also recognize the significant challenges immigrants face, particularly in terms of mental health. These challenges include culture shock, difficulties with assimilation, increased isolation and loneliness, financial hardships, fears of the unknown, and trauma, among others. The hope for a better life often comes with unforeseen obstacles, making the journey even more challenging.

When I ask family members, including my mother, why they decided to come to the U.S., their first response is always to “have a better life.” This answer strikes me as odd because I wonder if they consider the culture shock and difficulties with assimilation they might experience. Culture shock can lead to feelings of disorientation and anxiety when faced with different social norms, language barriers, and daily practices that are vastly different from their previous way of life. This adjustment period is challenging as immigrants strive to integrate into American society while preserving their cultural identity. Assimilation difficulties can include discrimination, economic hardship, and a lack of social support, which hinder their ability to find stable employment, secure housing, and access essential services. Despite these obstacles, many immigrants demonstrate resilience and gradually adapt, even though the process is often difficult.

Isolation and loneliness are significant challenges immigrants face when migrating to the United States. There is often a profound sense of isolation because they must build new relationships after being surrounded by family and friends throughout their lives. The lack of a sense of community or belonging leads to feelings of disconnection from social supports, which often causes increased sadness and depression. Additionally, the absence of a support system and community ties exacerbates these feelings, making the adjustment period even more challenging. 

Immigrants often face significant fears of the unknown and financial hardships when migrating to the United States. The uncertainty of navigating a new country, including finding employment, securing housing, and accessing healthcare, can be daunting and anxiety-inducing. In my own experience, I have witnessed family members working multiple jobs to pay bills, send money back to their country of origin, and live in tight spaces to make ends meet. This economic instability increases irritability and stress, causing many families to question if they made the right decision. Many arrive with limited financial resources, making it challenging to cover basic living expenses, support their families, or invest in further education or job training. Additionally, fears of legal issues, such as visa complications or the threat of deportation, further add to their stress and uncertainty.

Trauma and PTSD are significant aspects of the immigrant experience that cannot be overlooked. Many immigrants have endured traumatic events in their home countries, such as violence or extreme poverty, which leave lasting psychological scars. The migration journey itself can be traumatic, involving dangerous travel conditions, human trafficking, or exploitation. Upon arrival, immigrants may face additional stressors, such as family separation, detention, and the constant fear of deportation. The challenges of adjusting to a new culture, language barriers, and potential discrimination further exacerbate their trauma. These experiences can lead to PTSD symptoms including flashbacks, severe anxiety, and emotional numbness, making it difficult for immigrants to fully integrate and thrive in their new environment.

I advocate for mental health services in every capacity, aiming to normalize these experiences so more people seek support. I understand that in many communities, it’s easier to stay under the radar, avoid discussing painful topics, and not “rock the boat.” Stigma is especially strong in immigrant communities, where asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness. Due to this, it is important to highlight how to cope when navigate these unique mental health struggles. 

Coping strategies to help immigrants navigate current triggers and stressors:

  1. Stay Connected: Maintain regular communication with family and friends back home through phone calls or video chats to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. This can help increase your overall mood. 
  2. Control what you can through self-care practices: Incorporate self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies to manage stress and maintain mental health. You may notice that you have more power than what you think.
  3. Build a Routine: Establishing a daily routine can provide a sense of stability and normalcy, helping to manage anxiety and stress. Start with a bedtime and a wakeup, even the small things can make a big difference. 
  4. Seek Community Support: Connect with local immigrant communities or support groups. These networks can provide emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of belonging. 
  5. Knowledge is power: legal aid: This can help you to understand and address any immigration-related issues, which can help alleviate fears related to legal status and deportation.
  6. Explore Mental Health Services: Utilize counseling services, particularly those specializing in immigrant or trauma-focused therapy. Many organizations offer sliding scale fees or pro bono services. Check out or to see what options are available to you. 

While many immigrants face challenges transitioning from their home country to the United States, my hope is to normalize their unique experiences by highlighting some of the mental health struggles they encounter. It’s important to recognize that many of their experiences align with what people generally face. This realization helps us see that, despite our immigration status or story, we all struggle in different yet similar ways.

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BIPOC mental health immigrant immigrant experience Immigrant families immigration latina therapist Mental Health Patricia Alvarado
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