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Latino kids who experience the immigration-related arrest of a family member report more severe levels of depression than those who don’t have such an experience, according to new research.
This is especially true for children who have one or both parents undocumented.
“These arrests often are a distant abstract fear or urban legend for many Latino kids, but it becomes very real and frightening when it happens to their family, which can have serious repercussions for their mental health,” said lead researcher Dr. Zachary Giano of Oklahoma State University, in a press release.
The research, led by Oklahoma State University, is published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.
The scientists examined the relationship between an immigration-related arrest of a family member and depressive symptoms in 611 Latino 7th-graders from an Oklahoma public school. They also looked at the moderating associations of perceived parental documentation status.
29% of students reported an immigration-related arrest of a family member.
These findings suggests that suffering or witnessing an immigration-related arrest of a family member is considerably associated with higher rates of depressive symptoms.
Depressive symptoms are magnified among youth who report that both of their parents have undocumented legal status.
Furthermore, parental citizenship status has a moderating effect.
In the study, 85% of the students were born in the United States and are citizens. However, 20% of students stated they had one undocumented parent.
33% reported that both parents were undocumented. In reality, that number is probably higher due to kids not wanting to reveal that information, stated Giano.
Teen Girls Particularly Affected
Depression was also higher for girls and students who were older than the mean age of 13 among the participants.
Unfortunately, Latinas suffering from extreme mental issues is nothing new.
Suicide attempts among Latina teens are at a higher rate than their non-Latino white female and Latino male peers, according to a Salud America! research review.
“Middle school is already a tumultuous time, and kids in the seventh grade aren’t supposed to experience these high levels of stress and trauma,” Giano said.
“It makes school a lower priority, which is really detrimental at this age. Studies have shown that if you fall behind academically in middle school, it’s really hard to catch up later.”
Immigration, Teens, and Mental Health
The study reinforced the fact that Latino youth are far more likely than their peers to have mental health issues. These issues often go unaddressed and untreated.
Immigration issues, poverty, bullying, and other factors affect these disparities, according to a Salud America! research review.
Additionally, with today’s anti-immigrant climate, the mental health of Latinos continues to suffer. Fear of deportation, mainly those in immigrant communities, is one of the main reasons mental health goes unchecked and untreated.
Sadly, mental health problems have plagued teens of all races and ethnicity, in which nearly one-third of children ages 10-12 screened positive for suicide risk during an emergency room visit, some even if they came in for a physical health issue.
In Oklahoma, where the study took place, there is a large immigrant population.
However, it has few resources, likely due to its location.
Moreover, researchers believe the anti-immigrant rhetoric is contributing to greater rates of depression in Latino kids.
“This discriminatory rhetoric has really evolved in a more sinister way, and it’s impacting the Latino community,” Giano said.
“I think kids in middle school usually aren’t interested in politics, but there is this cascading effect of dangerous rhetoric that’s coming down from the top and reaching all the way down to middle school.”
What You Can Do
Also, read about heroes like Minerva Perez, who is stepping up to help Latinos and improve mental health and overall well-being.
Perez, leader of Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) in New York, disseminates cultural, social, economic, and educational development for Latino communities
She crafted a three-hour workshops—called Círculos de Fuerza, or Circles of Strength—to empower Latino families to express their stress and fears in English or Spanish, and lean on each other for support, all with guidance from licensed mental health professionals.
“People can feel good about whatever they’re sharing in this room,” Perez said. “That allows people to take some of the air out of that level of stress and fear and emotional isolation.”