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Immigrant families aren’t immune from mental health challenges

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Immigrant families aren’t immune from mental health challenges

May 30, 2024 | 1:03 pm ET
By Darril Garcia Soto Ileana Salinas
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Immigrant families aren’t immune from mental health challenges
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As a 20-year-old immigrant from Mexico, I never paid much attention to the importance of mental health and its impact on my everyday life. Today, however, I see the significance behind mental health risk factors associated with the lack of an immigration status.

As an upcoming senior at Grand Canyon University, pursuing a major in business administration with a minor in business analytics, I have experienced first-hand the challenges that come with seeking higher education while being undocumented. Today, I use my identity and lessons learned as a source of strength, resilience, and pride.

My parents and I came to the United States as undocumented immigrants in 2005. Like many others, we came to this country to build a better future for our family. 

Growing up, I witnessed the challenges my parents faced as they fought to build a future for myself and my four younger siblings. The cultural change and language barriers, coupled with different education and healthcare systems, made it difficult for my parents to adjust. 

In addition to these, the lack of health insurance, financial aid, and the uncertainty of lacking an immigration status are some of the cultural stressors that contribute to the development of depressive and mental symptoms amongst immigrant youth. 

Looking at the numbers, the organization Think Global Health emphasizes that the prevalence of psychological distress (e.g., feeling nervous, hopeless, restless or fidgety, worthless, depressed) of children of immigrants is nearly double (10.1 percent) that of their first-generation immigrant parents (5.9 percent). Many are uninformed about mental health care. 

When looking for scholarships in high school, one of the biggest barriers is the requirement of being a “U.S. citizen” or “legal resident,” instantly summoning disappointment. Other times, “DACA recipient” was the short wall stopping me from receiving additional support. Though I am DACA-eligible, I cannot apply because the program is not currently accepting new applicants. 

The sense of disappointment and hopelessness builds with each barred application. Over time, as more opportunities become limited, a sense of despair translated into apathy. Whenever I would hear of a new opportunity, I’d think, “It’s probably not for me.” I wouldn’t even check because I’d already know what to expect, though there was always a little bit of hope. 

Eventually, my hard work paid off. Today, I am proud to attend Grand Canyon University with a generous full tuition scholarship in partnership with TheDream.US. 

It is crucial to look for resources at local organizations that can help support our community, such as Aliento, a nonprofit that works with immigrants in Arizona through different programs, including Cultiva, which offers arts and healing workshops, open mics, and support groups. These programs include advice on navigating stressful situations in our community while bringing awareness and destigmatizing mental health, as well as tips on how to find a culturally aware therapist.  

As an intern in Aliento’s Cultiva program, I am focused on researching the challenges faced by immigrant students and families. I also help with events that support mental health. Aliento’s community mental health approach has supported me, offering a safe space to share experiences and advocate for positive change.

-Darril Garcia Soto

The Cultiva Program 

At the Cultiva Program, we aim to empower youth to practice coping skills, engage in self-reflection and storytelling, and express their challenges and hopes through different art mediums. 

As the Cultiva Program Manager at Aliento, I understand the importance of mental health in immigrant youth. I work closely with students like Darril and recognize the barriers they face because I, too, am an immigrant from Mexico and grew up facing similar challenges. I joined Aliento in 2016 as the first Art and Healing Program Collaborator. Since then, I have been dedicated to facilitating bilingual spaces to promote healing, empowerment, and unity.

When we share our stories, we are able to not only express our truth, but we are also able to hear ourselves process emotions that might have been internalized as we focused on being resilient. As we listen to other’s stories and hear them share similar barriers and feelings, we get to realize that we are not alone, building a sense of community and support for each other. The process of sharing and listening while expressing ourselves through art is something we prioritize in Aliento workshops with the community and at schools. 

As parents, teachers, and community members, we should lead by shifting our mindset from being welcoming to fostering a sense of belonging. We need to build confidence in our youth so they feel safe expressing themselves at school and home, helping to reduce stigma and better support their well-being through the available resources with organizations like Aliento.

Ileana Salinas