- Posted By: Myriam Grajales-Hall
- Written by: UC Davis Health System
Mexicans who migrate to the United States are far more likely to experience significant depression and anxiety than individuals who do not immigrate, a new study indicates, as reported by UC Davis Health System.
The study, "Migration from Mexico to the U.S. and subsequent risk for depressive and anxiety disorders: A cross-national study," was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. It was conducted collaboratively by researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine and the National Institute of Psychiatry, Mexico. It is the first to suggest that migrating to the U.S. places one at risk of “clinically significant” mental-health problems.
Among migrants, those between 18 and 25 have the greatest risk of experiencing a depressive disorder — nearly four-and-one-half times greater than their same-age Mexican peers who do not immigrate.
“We had a unique opportunity to examine the effect of migration by comparing migrants with people in their country of origin who did not migrate,” said lead study author Joshua Breslau, an associate professor of internal medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine and a researcher with the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities. "The results suggest that after migrating from Mexico to the U.S., migrants are more likely to develop significant mental-health problems than individuals who remained in Mexico.”
“From the Mexican side, this study is very important, because most of what we know about what is happening to the population when they are in the United States is based on studies carried out in the U.S. only,” said Guilherme Borges, senior researcher with the National Institute of Psychiatry, Mexico, and professor of psychiatry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “Now, for the first time, we have data that compares the situation in the U.S. and in Mexico.”
There are approximately 12 million people born in Mexico who are living in the United States, constituting approximately 30 percent of the foreign-born U.S. population and nearly 25 percent of the total U.S. Hispanic population of close to 50 million.
The study analyzed data from interviews with approximately 550 male and female Mexican-born migrants and approximately 2,500 non-migrant Mexicans.
One of the study’s strengths was that it compared migrants with same-aged nonimmigrant family members still living in Mexico. It found that during the period following arrival in the United States, Mexican migrants were nearly twice as likely to experience a first-onset depressive or anxiety disorder as their nonimmigrant peers.
The greatest risk was experienced by the youngest migrants, who were 18-to-25 years old at the time of the study.
“This study confirms our earlier research that suggests that the longer immigrants remain in their country of origin, the lower the likelihood that they will develop anxiety and mood disorders,” said senior study author Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, professor of clinical internal medicine, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and an author of the earlier studies. “Conversely, there is evidence that the younger the Mexican migrants are when they arrive in the U.S., the greater their propensity to develop these disorders.”
Earlier studies have found that among Mexican-Americans, as among U.S. Hispanics more broadly, greater acculturation — adoption of American patterns of behavior — is associated with worse mental-health status, including higher rates of both psychiatric and substance-use disorders. In addition, among Mexican-born immigrants in the U.S., those who have been in the U.S. for longer periods of time have worse mental health than those who have arrived more recently.
“We tend to be very disease-specific when we address migrant health, focusing on HIV or tuberculosis, for example. But this is an enormous global population whose broadly based health-care needs have largely been overlooked,” said Marc Schenker, UC Davis professor of public health sciences and director of the Migration and Health Research Center.
“And within the range of health conditions, mental-health in particular has not been addressed. Migrants experience a wide range of mental-problems that are exacerbated by the enormous stresses of political and economic disenfranchisement and victimization. Only a bi-national or multinational approach will be effective in improving this picture,” Schenker said.
Source: UC Davis Health System, “Study: Migrants are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression than family members who remain in Mexico,” April 6, 2011.