Between Two Worlds: The Mental Health Struggles Latinx Immigrants Face

Starting anew in a foreign country is a big undertaking

Latinx immigrants mental health

Photo by Caleb Oquendo:

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the diversity and shared experiences of the immigrant communities in the United States. In celebrating this diversity, it is also important to raise awareness of challenges that are unique to immigrant communities, specifically the impact on the Latinx immigrant comunidad. When discussing immigration, it’s essential to understand that there are many reasons why people immigrate. For many Latinx immigrants, the driving force behind their decision is the search for a better life for themselves and their future families. For some, it may feel that it is their only option for survival.
I have worked with many Latinx immigrants as well as many children of Latinx immigrants. I have encountered several common mental health challenges associated with immigration that affect the Latinx immigrant community. These challenges include a loss of social support networks, the search for a sense of belonging, navigating identity in a new country, stress related to documentation status, and trauma associated with the immigration journey or the circumstances that led to the decision to emigrate. These situations can significantly impact individuals’ mental health, leading to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma.

A significant challenge stemming from immigration is the loss of social support and a sense of belonging. When individuals arrive in a new country, they often make choices for survival, including the decision to assimilate into the new culture or acculturate by adopting a blend of the new and old cultures while retaining some values. These decisions are often made to increase access to social support and foster a sense of belonging.

In my own family, my parents, who are immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador, prioritized finding a vecindario where they felt a sense of familiarity and where other Latinx immigrants and their families resided. We lived in a building with 46 apartments, some of which had small businesses aka tienditas operating out of them. Every weekend, I would wake up to the sound of Spanish music playing in our apartment and throughout the building. For my parents, it provided a sense of community and belonging amid experiences of discrimination and feeling unaccepted in other spaces. Home was where they felt they truly belonged.

Not all Latinx immigrants have access to vecindarios or spaces where they feel that they belong. This disconnect can lead to depression symptoms such as withdrawal, isolation, sadness, hopelessness, and can also lead to anxiety symptoms such as irritability, racing thoughts, and constant worries. Additionally, mental health symptoms could present physically in the form of frequent headaches, stomachaches and/or trouble with sleep.

A consejo, although it may sometimes be hard to find other Latinx immigrant communities, it may be possible to connect with fellow immigrants from other countries. Consider sharing customs and traditions with one another. Keeping an open mind to diverse ideas and befriending diverse communities can create its own sense of community and belonging. 

Stress surrounding documentation status is another common mental health challenge among immigrants. The fear and stress associated with documentation status often prevents individuals from seeking any kind of support, including mental health services, due to the fear of deportation or other negative consequences. The constant fear of being discovered or targeted can create a heightened state of anxiety and isolation, exacerbating existing mental health issues or even giving rise to new ones. Regardless of their circumstances, the lengthy paths to citizenship can hinder immigrants’ ability to access and trust available resources, including mental health support. 

A consejo, informing and educating oneself helps to combat the fear of negative consequences.

There are online resources that provide additional information about the rights and resources of immigrants regardless of documentation status, is one informative option. 

Lastly, trauma is often associated with the immigration journey or the circumstances that led individuals to leave their home country. Many individuals experience post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. These trauma symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, and irritability. These trauma symptoms can lead to additional distrust of systems and possible helpful resources.

There is a common misconception that PTSD only develops due to experiencing a single, major traumatic event. However, it’s essential to understand that trauma symptoms can stem from various circumstances. Witnessing a traumatic event or enduring multiple distressing events, especially when lacking adequate resources to cope, can also lead to PTSD. It’s essential to recognize that the impact of trauma is determined by the magnitude of the event, individual factors, and support systems’ availability. By acknowledging this, we can better understand and address the diverse range of experiences that can contribute to PTSD.

A consejo: it may be hard to ask for help, but working with a mental health professional is essential for being able to process and experience relief from PTSD symptoms. I highly recommend utilizing directories such as to find a trusted provider. There are also organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that works to provide free resources in Spanish and English. Finally, there are many bilingual resources to help with stress management, a great free tool for guided meditations is from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Resource Center (MARC). 

Therapy is not the only pathway to healing and support. Engaging in self-reflection and connecting with loved ones can play a significant role in maintaining your mental well-being. Here are a few questions you can reflect on or discuss with your trusted loved ones:

  1. How has the process of immigration impacted your emotional well-being? Consider the emotional ups and downs, the challenges faced, and the impact of leaving your familiar environment.
  2. What strategies have you found helpful in maintaining your mental well-being during the stress of the immigration process? Reflect on the coping mechanisms, self-care practices, or activities that have provided support and relief during challenging times.
  3. Have you discovered any sources of support, whether through friends, family, or community, that have positively contributed to your mental well-being? Share your experiences with loved ones and explore how they can continue to provide support.

A final consejo, starting anew in a foreign country is a big undertaking. Remember that you are doing your best, and that you do not have to do it alone. Seek comfort in loved ones and actively seek out community in person or online. You are not alone in this journey, and there are resources and people who genuinely care and want to support you along the way.

Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.

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Dr. Lisette Sanchez Featured immigrant heritage month immigrant mental health Latina mental health Latinx immigrants Latinx mental health Mental Health POC and mental health stigma
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