Abstract: Psychological Distress Among Venezuelan Immigrants in the US and Colombia: The Role of Discrimination and Context of Reception (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Psychological Distress Among Venezuelan Immigrants in the US and Colombia: The Role of Discrimination and Context of Reception

Friday, January 18, 2019: 8:30 AM
Union Square 19 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Christopher Salas-Wright, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Seth Schwartz, PhD, Professor, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Augusto Perez-Gomez, PhD, Director, Corporacion Nuevos Rumbos
Juliana Mejia-Trujillo, MSW, Director of Prevention, Corporacion Nuevos Rumbos
Eric Brown, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Miami, FL
Pablo Montero-Zamora, Doctoral Student, University of Miami
Alan Meca, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University
Carolina Scaramutti, Graduate Student, University of Miami
Mary Soares, Graduate Student, University of Miami
Saskia Vos, Graduate Student, University of Miami
Nino Javakhishvili, Assistant Professor, Ilia State University
Background and Purpose:

Venezuela has emerged as a new and critically-important source of immigrants to the United States (US) and to countries across Latin America. Estimates indicate that between 3 and 4 million Venezuelans—roughly 10% of the total population—have left the country since the “Bolivarian Revolution” began in the late 1990s, and that the bulk of Venezuelans who remain in the once prosperous nation desire to emigrate. The US has long been the top receiving country for Venezuelans, with the majority settling in South Florida; however, in the last few years, huge numbers of Venezuelan émigrés have relocated to neighboring Colombia as well.

The aim of the present study is to compare cultural stressors, psychological distress, and their interrelationships between recent Venezuelan immigrants in the US and in Colombia. Cultural stress theory suggests that immigrant groups in receiving contexts that are more culturally similar would report less discrimination, and a less negative context of reception, compared to immigrant groups settling in countries that are more culturally dissimilar. We therefore hypothesized that recent Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia would report less cultural stress, and less psychological distress (depressive and anxiety symptoms), compared to Venezuelan immigrants in the US.


Participants in the present study were 647 Venezuelan immigrant adults in the US (n = 342) and Colombia (n = 305). All participants reported having one or more children under age 18 and 78% of participants reported having migrated in the previous 12 months. In both sites, the study team engaged community leaders to recruit participants using respondent-driven sampling.

Participants completed surveys assessing perceived discrimination (e.g., "How often do people treat you unfairly or negatively because you are Venezuelan?") and negative context of reception (e.g., "People from Venezuela are not welcome here"). We also measured self-reported depressive and anxiety symptoms using the 10-item Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD-B) and the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD), respectively. Using Mplus Version 8, we examined bivariate correlations between variables by country and, in turn, conducted path analysis to examine the degree to which discrimination mediated the relationship between negative context of reception and mental health symptoms in the two sites.


Contrary to expectations, we found that Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia reported significantly greater discrimination, a worse context of reception, and more depressive symptoms, compared to their counterparts in the US. Mediation models indicated that a negative context of reception was related to depressive and anxiety symptoms indirectly through experiences of discrimination.

Conclusions and Implications:

Contrary to what cultural stress theory would predict, Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia reported more discrimination and a more unfavorable context of reception than did Venezuelan immigrants in the US. Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia also reported more symptoms of depression (but not more symptoms of anxiety) than did Venezuelan immigrants in the US. Potential explanations for this unexpected pattern of results are explored in reference to theory and recent findings from qualitative research with Venezuelan immigrants in the US and Colombia.