Since 1970, the African immigrant population in the United States has grown rapidly from 80,000 to 2.3 million. Stressors associated with immigrant adaptation, including acculturative stress, have been shown to contribute to mental health distress. Research indicates that meaningful social connection may alleviate psychological distress, particularly for immigrants, who often experience loneliness during the acculturation process. This study sought to explore whether connection to heritage culture and neighborhood cohesion moderated the relationship between acculturative stress and depression and anxiety symptoms among African immigrants in the United States. We hypothesized that a) increased neighborhood cohesion and cultural connection would predict depression and anxiety symptoms, b) neighborhood cohesion and cultural connection would minimize the impact of acculturative stress on depression and anxiety symptoms.
Data were collected using a cross-sectional survey design. The sample included first and second-generation African immigrants (N=600). Depression and anxiety symptoms were measured using the 25-item Hopkins Symptom Checklist (α = 0.96). Acculturative stress was measured using the Social, Attitudinal, Familial, and Environmental Acculturative Stress Scale (α = 0.95). Neighborhood cohesion was measured using the Social Cohesion and Trust scale (α = 0.75). Connection with heritage culture was measured using two items examining accessibility and involvement with African immigrant communities. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regressions were performed separately for first- and second-generation immigrants using Stata. Control variables included discrimination, childhood trauma, age, sex, race, income, marital status, and education level.
The sample was predominantly female (71%) and Black (82%), with a median age of 25 years. Second-generation immigrants reported slightly higher levels of depressive symptoms (t(586) = -3.58, p < .001) and acculturative stress (t(588) = -2.04, p < .05).
For first- and second-generation immigrants, higher levels of acculturative stress (𝛃=0.52, p < .001; 𝛃=0.39, p < .001), childhood trauma (𝛃=0.21, p < .001; 𝛃=0.30, p < .001), and discrimination (𝛃=0.14, p < .01; 𝛃=0.16, p < .01) were associated with increased depression and anxiety symptoms. For first-generation immigrants, greater neighborhood cohesion was associated with increased symptoms (𝛃=0.11, p < .01), while increased cultural connection (𝛃=-0.09, p < .05) and income (𝛃=-0.11, p < .05) were associated with decreased symptoms. For second-generation immigrants, increasing age contributed to decreased symptomatology (𝛃=-0.16, p < .01).
Moderation analyses revealed that cultural connection amplified the effect of acculturative stress on depression and anxiety symptoms for first-generation immigrants (𝛃=0.1, p < .05). We found no significant moderation effects among second-generation immigrants.
Conclusions and Implications
Factors found to contribute to depression and anxiety symptoms in this study align with previous research and support acculturative stress, discrimination, and childhood trauma as areas of focus for social work practitioners working with African immigrants. Though contrary to our hypotheses, the exacerbating effect of cultural connection on the acculturative stress and mental health relationship aligns with other studies finding black ethnic density to be associated with worse health outcomes. Future research is needed to understand the conditions under which cultural connection can facilitate positive versus negative effects on mental health within this population.