US immigrants have fewer mental illnesses than Americans?
US immigrants have fewer mental illnesses than Americans?

Using the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and personal interviews, a new study surveyed more than 36,000 immigrants discovering something surprising and counterintuitive: that immigrants from the United States have lower rates of health problems than Americans themselves.

Specifically, the study was less likely to experience anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and trauma-related disorders.

Healthy immigrant

A priori, one might think that the stress of moving to a new country, establishing a new life and learning a new culture can be a challenge to the mental health of an immigrant, because it is all stressful. However, immigrants are precisely the healthiest and mentally tough, who dare to face the challenge.

According to this hypothesis, called the healthy immigrant, people who are willing to migrate, and can do so successfully, are part of an exceptionally healthy and psychologically resistant subset.

Essentially, immigrants seem to be healthier because only healthy people, in general, are able to emigrate. Unhealthy people lack the ability or desire to leave their countries of origin, while healthier people who voluntarily decide to immigrate resolve the stress better and are more mentally resistant in general.

It is also likely that logistical and financial barriers to immigration prevent ill people from reaching the United States. In fact, when these barriers are removed, the rates of mental disorders in immigrants tend to increase to the levels of Americans. Puerto Ricans, for example, can travel freely to the United States without going through immigration. As a result, they have comparable levels of mental illness as individuals on the continent.

The survey used to collect most of the data did not distinguish between the types of immigrants interviewed, so this study could not comment on the specific differences between volunteer migrants (workers, people who had immigrated to be with the family, etc.). ) and involuntary migrants (refugees and asylum seekers). However, previous research has shown that refugees experience higher levels of disorders than non-refugee immigrants .

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Cultural acclimatization

However, the study also recognizes that other factors may be at play when it comes to the mental health of young immigrants. A notable factor is cultural acclimatization. Are they healthier than those that best adapt to the culture that hosts them or is it the other way around?

Apparently, immigrants who immerse themselves more in their adoptive culture experience worse health outcomes than those who are less adapted to it. For example, US Hispanics 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.

If they adapt more to the culture, they also enter into more contacts with citizens of the country, which increases the probability of discrimination, be it explicit or implicit, which increases the stress rates. Also, having higher language skills, it seems, they are able to detect more often possible nuances in the discrimination of Americans.

Naturally, these results appear in the United States. It remains to be seen if these phenomena are repeated in other countries, or if the origin of the migrant is decisive to alter some value.

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