Immigrants living in US near California-Mexico border have history of trauma

November 7, 2017, Rice University

More than 80 percent of immigrants residing in the U.S. without authorization near the California-Mexico border have a lifetime history of traumatic events, according to a new study from a psychologist at Rice University. Nearly 50 percent of these immigrants suffer from clinically significant psychological distress.

"One Scar Too Many:" The Associations Between Traumatic Events and Psychological Distress Among Undocumented Mexican Immigrants" will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Traumatic Stress. This is the first study to provide population-based estimates for the prevalence of traumatic events and the association to clinically significant among Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization.

Luz Garcini, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychology at Rice and the study's lead author, sought to assess the prevalence of traumatic events among this population and to identify the prevalence of psychological associated with these events.

Overall, 82 percent of the participants interviewed reported a history of traumatic events, from being victims of or witnessing violence to living in poverty. About a third of the participants reported a history of at least six or more different types of traumatic events. Among those with a history of traumatic events, there was a high prevalence of clinically significant psychological distress—47 percent. Fifty-nine percent of participants with this psychological distress reported a history of domestic violence or bodily injury, 56 percent said they had witnessed violence toward others, 55 percent reported material deprivation—the inability of individuals or households to afford consumption of goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time—and 53 percent said they had witnessed injury of their loved ones. Garcini said differences in psychological distress were not significant between males and females.

"Our findings are alarming," she said. "The prevalence of traumatic events among undocumented immigrants in our study is much higher compared with estimates for other U.S. populations. Of primary concern is that the current socio-political climate and punitive actions against the undocumented community, such as the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, may increase risk of exposure to among these immigrants without access to needed services or legal protection."

Garcini hopes the research will encourage the development and provision of culturally and contextually sensitive prevention and treatment interventions, as well as policy efforts to protect the of this .

"Revisiting immigration policies to devise solutions grounded in evidence and advocating support mechanisms aimed at protecting the human rights of this population are essential to prevent the negative consequences of trauma for these immigrants and the broader communities in Mexico and the U.S.," Garcini said.

The study included 248 Mexican immigrants (172 women and 76 men) living in high-risk neighborhoods near the California-Mexico border. (The city where the study was conducted is listed among the most conservative U.S. cities with strong opposition and disciplinary actions against undocumented immigrants. Because of this, Garcini said, the area is considered high-risk for undocumented immigrants.) The majority of participants ranged between the ages of 18 and 45, and approximately 20 percent were older than 45 years of age. Participants had lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years.

The participants took part in clinical interviews conducted by psychology doctoral trainees under the supervision of mental health clinicians. The interviews were assessed using an adapted version of the Traumatic Events Inventory of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, which is designed to assess among at-risk immigrants.

"This information is only the tip of the iceberg," Garcini said. "Additional research and funding are needed to document the devastating effects of contextual stress and trauma on the health of , which is key to inform advocacy, policy and intervention efforts."

Explore further: Immigrants living in the country without authorization at risk for anxiety and depression

Related Stories

Immigrants living in the country without authorization at risk for anxiety and depression

October 30, 2017
Nearly a quarter of Mexican immigrants who live near the California-Mexico border without legal authorization have a mental disorder, particularly depression or anxiety, according to a new study by Rice University.

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Addressing refugee and immigrant women's stress

June 21, 2017
Refugee and undocumented immigrant women may experience unique and ongoing stress following migration, in addition to the pre- and post-migration traumatic events all immigrants may experience. A new study explores ways in ...

Special efforts are needed to address trauma in refugee youth

June 15, 2017
In a study of children and adolescents referred for mental health services at US trauma treatment sites, there were important differences in the experiences of refugee youth who were displaced by war-related violence relative ...

Undocumented immigrants in O.C. use fewer health services than rest of population

October 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- According to a new UC Irvine study, undocumented immigrants living in Orange County utilized fewer medical services in 2005 than did documented immigrants and citizens of Latino and non-Latino white backgrounds ...

Recommended for you

When you are unhappy in a relationship, why do you stay? The answer may surprise you

October 22, 2018
Why do people stay in unsatisfying romantic relationships? A new study suggests it may be because they view leaving as bad for their partner.

First impressions count, new speech research confirms

October 22, 2018
Human beings make similar judgements of the trustworthiness and dominance of an unfamiliar speaker after hearing just a single word, new research shows, suggesting the old saying that 'first impressions count' might well ...

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.