Since 2016, significant policy changes and increased enforcement of existing statutes, including the “zero-tolerance” border policy, have been enacted in relation to immigrants from Mexico and other areas of Central and South America. Initiatives to control and exclude immigrants may have helped to normalize macroaggressions and race/ethnicity-based discrimination. It is likely that these policy changes have negatively impacted the health and wellbeing of immigrants from Mexico. This study investigates the incidences of clinically significant depression and overall psychological distress in a community sample of Mexican American immigrants to determine if there is an association between length of time since immigration and prevalence of significant mental health symptomology.
Methods: 249 Mexican American immigrants ages 18-65 were field recruited with the help of community gatekeepers to complete a survey of their current physical and mental health. Standardized measures available and English and Spanish included the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and the revised Center for Epidemiological Study Depression Scale (CES-D-R). The survey took approximately 45 minutes to complete and participants received a $15 gift card for participation. An independent t-test was used to compare CES-D-R and BSI scores for individuals termed “new arrivals” – those who have arrived in the U. S. since 2015, and those who had resided in the U.S. for four years or more. Bivariate Poisson regression was used to determine if new arrivals were more at risk of reporting clinically significant mental health symptomology.
Results: 62.3% of new arrivals met the clinical cutoff for significant psychological distress and 42.1% of new arrivals reported clinically significant depressive symptomology. New arrivals also had significantly higher mean BSI [t (247) = 4.24, p = .001, g = 1.01] and CES-D, [t (247) = 3.02, p = .002, g = .88] scores than those who had lived in the United States for longer periods of time. New arrivals also had a .38 increased risk of experiencing depression and a .47 increased risk of experiencing global psychological distress. Overall, the psychological health of recent immigrants was significantly worse than that of more established immigrants.
Conclusions and Implications: Mexican American immigrants arriving in the United States since 2015 report significantly higher levels of depression and overall psychological distress than those who have resided in the United States for longer periods of time. These findings are inconsistent with the Hispanic Health Paradox and lend support to the assertion that recent immigration policy changes may be associated with decreases in mental health and wellness in recent Mexican American Immigrants. Implications for identification and treatment of mental health symptomology for Hispanic immigrants will be highlighted and strategies for engaging this vulnerable and often hidden community in mental health services will be explored.