Category: Cultural Diversity / Vulnerable Populations
Immigrants experience various stressors in the process of acculturation: including language barriers, sociocultural marginalization, discrimination, and reduced familial support. These stressors can impact multiple areas of child functioning (e.g., peer relationship, academic performance) and cause psychological distress. Prior work has highlighted the prevalence of depression and self-harm among Hispanic and African American youth, but few studies have examined immigration and acculturative stress as factors that distinguish levels of risk among urban ethnic minority adolescents.
To address this limitation, the present study investigated effects of immigration and acculturation on adolescent mental health via secondary data analyses of the 2013 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Our sample consisted of Hispanic and African American/Black NYC public high school students who participated in the survey (N = 6,141; Hispanic: 62.4%, female: 51.4%, immigrant: 25.1%). Immigrant status and acculturation levels were determined by the length of residence in the United States. We hypothesized that within each ethnic group, immigrants would report higher instances of depressed mood, self-injury, and suicide attempt than non-immigrants. Further, lower levels of acculturation (≤6 years of residence) would increase the risk for these emotional and behavioral dysfunctions.
A logistical regression was performed to test our hypothesized relations. Among African American/Black students, least acculturated immigrants ( < 1 year of residence) were thrice more likely to hurt self than non-immigrants (Wald χ2 (1) = 8.77, p < 0.05), after controlling for covariates (e.g., bullying, sexual minority, female, socioeconomic status). They were also 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-immigrant youth (Wald χ2 (1) = 14.14, p < 0.01). Furthermore, less acculturated Black immigrants (≤6 years) displayed a 58% higher likelihood of feeling depressed than non-immigrants (Wald χ2 (1) = 4.82, p < 0.05). More acculturated youth (>6 years) were 31% more likely to feel depressed than non-immigrant peers (Wald χ2 (1) = 4.27, p < 0.05). Among Hispanic students, less acculturated immigrants were 87% more likely to hurt self than non-immigrants (Wald χ2 (1) = 4.68, p < 0.05), after controlling for covariates. There was no relationship for depressed mood or suicide attempt in the same model.