Abstract: Factors Associated with Mental Health Distress Among African Immigrants in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

87P Factors Associated with Mental Health Distress Among African Immigrants in the United States

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sherinah Saasa, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Tenesha Littleton, MSW, PhD Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background and Purpose: This study examined biopsychosocial factors that influence depression and anxiety symptoms among African immigrants in the United States. Research suggests increased vulnerability to mental health distress for ethnic minorities due to discrimination and racism. Though considerable research has been done on the mental health of immigrants and ethnic minorities, there is limited research on Africans in America who are among the fastest growing immigrant populations in the U.S. The duo status of black and immigrant coupled with the media-facilitated negative portrayal of black Africa makes this group particularly vulnerable to discrimination and negative outcomes. Thus for social workers to better serve this population, an exploration of factors that negatively impact their mental wellbeing is warranted.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey design was utilized to collect the data. The sample included first-generation African immigrants (N =207) from about 31 African countries. Depression and anxiety symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire scale (PHQ-4) that manifested internal consistency in the sample (α = .89). Multiple linear regression analysis was used to examine biopsychosocial predictors of depression and anxiety symptoms. Independent variables included poor health, loneliness, spirituality, discrimination, financial struggles, and worries about neighborhood safety. We also controlled for age, sex, race, marital status, and education.

Results: About 87% of participants identified as black, 62% had a bachelor’s degree or more, and the mean age was 33.7 (SD=9.3). Approximately 24% of participants reported depression and anxiety symptoms in the moderate to severe range. At the bivariate level, we found that loneliness, worries about neighborhood safety, financial difficulties, poor health, and discrimination were associated with higher depression and anxiety symptoms. The multivariate model (R2 = .53) showed that participants who reported frequent feelings of loneliness (β = .21, p <. 001), had financial difficulties (β = .12, p <. 05), experienced higher levels of discrimination (β = .14, p <. 05), and had greater worries about neighborhood safety (β = .33, p <. 001), were significantly at higher risk for depression and anxiety symptoms. Further, females and married participants showed decreased risk for depression and anxiety symptoms compared to their male and single counterparts (p < .05).

Conclusions and Implications:

This study adds to the scarce knowledge base of factors impacting the mental health status of African immigrants. These findings suggest that African immigrants face a myriad of stressors that place them at risk for mental health problems. As African immigrants increasingly enter U.S. social service systems, social workers should be aware of the unique circumstances affecting their mental health. This study supports the use of the biopsychosocial approach in assessment and intervention of mental health symptoms as well as a systems approach when understanding the experiences of African immigrants. Social workers should also embody cultural humility and engage in culturally competent practice when working with immigrant populations. Future research should examine pathways between discrimination and blocked access to higher paying jobs and quality neighborhoods and how this may contribute to negative mental health outcomes.