Immigrants have fewer mental disorders than U.S.-born Americans. Why?
Immigrants who come to the U.S. are significantly less likely than U.S.-born individuals to have mental health problems, according to a new study published in Psychiatry Research.
Immigrants who come to the U.S. are significantly less likely than U.S.-born individuals to have mental health problems, according to a new study published in Psychiatry Research. Using the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and face-to-face interviews, the study surveyed over 36,000 immigrants and revealed the counterintuitive finding that immigrants are less likely to experience anxiety, bipolar, depressive, and trauma-related disorders.
One would think that the stress of moving to a new country, setting up a new life, and learning a new culture would be an assault on an immigrant's mental health. There's no doubt that doing so is stressful, but it turns out that the very reasons why immigration is so difficult are the same reasons why those who do immigrate successfully tend to be healthier and mentally tougher than average. This is referred to, appropriately enough, as the healthy migrant hypothesis.
What is the healthy migrant hypothesis?
“The fundamental premise of the healthy migrant hypothesis is that the process of migration is not random," says Christopher P. Salas-Wright, the study's author. Instead, “individuals who are inclined to migrate, and able to do so successfully, are part of a uniquely healthy and psychologically hardy subset."
Essentially, immigrants appear to be healthier because only the healthy are capable of immigrating. Unhealthy individuals either lack the ability or desire to leave their home countries, while healthier individuals who voluntarily decide to immigrate better handle the stresses of doing so and are more mentally resilient in general.
Florence Thompson, a migrant mother with three of her seven children at a farm workers' camp in Nipomo, California. (Photo by Dorothea Lange/Getty Images)
The logistical and financial barriers to immigration are likely what prevents unhealthy individuals from making it to the U.S. In fact, when these barriers are removed, the rates of mental disorders in immigrants tends to rise to U.S. levels. Puerto Ricans, for example, can freely travel to the mainland U.S. without going through immigration. As it turns out, they have comparable levels of mental illness as individuals from the mainland.
“Notably," says Dr. Salas-Wright, “the logic here is mostly applicable to individuals who actively decide to migrate." When there is no choice but to migrate, as is the case with refugees, the research is a little less clear.
The survey used to collect the bulk of the data did not distinguish between what types of immigrants were interviewed, so this study could not comment on the specific differences between voluntary migrants (laborers, people who had immigrated to be with family, etc.) and involuntary migrants (refugees and asylum seekers). However, previous research has shown that refugees do experience higher levels of PTSD than non-refugee immigrants.
Dr. Salas-Wright's study did look at the different rates of mental health issues based on age. Nearly all age groups of immigrants experienced fewer mental health issues except for children under the age of 12. They were just as likely as U.S.-born individuals to experience a mental health disorder in their lives.
Honduran asylum seeker Daniel Once, age two, arrives to an immigrant shelter with his family on April 25, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Because they do not actively participate in the decision to leave their home countries, both healthy and unhealthy children immigrate, whereas an unhealthy adult may have decided to remain. However, the study also acknowledges that other factors may be in play when it comes to the mental health of young immigrants. One notable factor is acculturation.
When adjusting is unhealthy
Because children are still developing, they quickly adjust to new environments, such as a new country. Acculturation theory explains that immigrants who become more immersed in their adoptive culture—more acculturated—experience worse health outcomes than those who are less acculturated. For example, Hispanics in the U.S. who mostly speak Spanish and associate with other Spanish speakers are less likely to use drugs and eat fast food and are more likely to be physically active.
In addition, immigrants who quickly become acculturated also report higher rates of discrimination than less-acculturated immigrants, the stress of which may account for higher rates of mental health issues.
Ali Younes, an 8 year-old from Lebanon, sits with his mother after becoming a U.S. citizen during a citizenship ceremony at The Bronx Zoo, May 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Because children are still developing, they quickly become acculturated to U.S. culture and take on the same behaviors that result in mental illness in U.S.-born individuals. They also come into more contact with U.S.-born individuals and potential discriminatory behavior and acculturated immigrants—who typically possess superior language skills—are more capable of recognizing discrimination when it occurs.
Despite the fact that children under 12 tended to experience mental illness at similar rates to Americans, the study ultimately supports the healthy migrant hypothesis. The 36,000+ immigrants surveyed reported fewer mental health issues than U.S.-born individuals. Immigrating anywhere is a challenge, and immigrating to the U.S. is even more difficult. Deciding to make the journey at all, let alone successfully immigrating, takes some serious mental fortitude.
Pay attention to the decisions made by the provinces.
- China leads the world in numerous green energy categories.
- CO2 emissions in the country totaling more than all coal emissions in the U.S. have recently emerged.
- This seems to be an administrative-induced blip on the way towards a green energy tipping point.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"
All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!
Build up, tear down—new technology stirs up a cycle of progress and cynicism we've seen all throughout history.
- "Every time that there's a new technology, particularly around media, there's a set of outcries around how that media is corrupting culture or how it's destroying certain aspects of our life," says entrepreneur and author Elad Gil.
- In some cases there are real concerns, but taking a historical view can quell unnecessary panic. Progress and cynicism work in a cyclical fashion. New tech is unveiled, the media builds it up, then the media tears it down in a wave of backlash.
- Today we worry about kids and smartphones; 80 years ago we worried about kids and the radio; same cynicism, different day.
- Technology lifts the lid on human potential and quality of life, says Gil. We should be duly cautious, but optimism is more valuable (and arguably more rational) than pessimism.
Calling all big thinkers!
- The next Mega Millions drawing is scheduled for Oct. 23 at 11 pm E.T.
- The odds of any one ticket winning are about 1 in 300 million.
- This might be a record-setting jackpot, but that doesn't mean you have a better chance of winning.
If you want to be a better and more passionate communicator, these tips are important.
If you identify as being a socially conscious person in today's age of outrage, you've likely experienced the bewildering sensation when a conversation that was once harmless, suddenly doesn't feel that way anymore. Perhaps you're out for a quick bite with family, friends, or coworkers when the conversation takes a turn. Someone's said something that doesn't sit right with you, and you're unsure of how to respond. Navigating social situations like this is inherently stressful.
Below are five expert-approved tips on how to maintain your cool and effectively communicate.
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.
- Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
- Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don't know.
- The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
Money makes the world go 'round. Unfortunately, it can make both children and adults into materialists.
- Keeping a gratitude journal caused children to donate 60 percent more to charitable causes.
- Other methods suggested by researchers include daily gratitude reflection, gratitude posters, and keeping a "gratitude jar."
- Materialism has been shown to increase anxiety and depression and promote selfish attitudes and behavior.
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