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Illegal immigrants at risk for mental health distress

Constantly facing exclusion from societies and institutions, immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States as small children and who passed the requirements set by the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAMers) Act are likely to experience mental health distress based on a recent study.

“DREAMers are often marginalized and discriminated against, and as a result they may become isolated from the larger educational and work communities,” study’s lead author, Luz Garcini, said in a statement. “Many also experience separation from deported family members, and they do not have the option of traveling internationally to visit them. Finally, they live in constant fear of deportation and experience a sense of voicelessness, invisibility and limited opportunities, due to their conflicting undocumented status.”

The postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Psychology in Rice University added that this specific group of immigrants is at risk for diminished quality of life and psychological distress as a consequence of the numerous complex stressors around them encountered for an extended period of time, not to discount having no access to sufficient mental health services and living under harsh conditions.

She expressed hopes that their research will bring about advocacy efforts and development of interventions for DREAMers.

“Debates on programs and policies pertaining to DREAMers are complex and multifaceted, and differences of opinion and divisions on policy options are long-standing,” Garcini said in the study that appeared in an online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Regardless, she suggested that, as clinicians, they “may contribute by devising solutions grounded in evidence and developing alternatives designed to facilitate access to culturally and contextually sensitive mental health services for these at-risk youths, which is critical to protecting their mental health and their basic human rights.”

To come up with these results, the researchers evaluated almost 260 illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. living in high-risk places or areas that strongly oppose and go after illegal immigrants.

Participants aged 18-25 were found to be the ones most likely to show psychological distress. Over 90% of all participants, meanwhile, enumerated reasons for their mental health distress: loss of home, of family, of symbolic self, and of social status.

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