Mexican immigrants to U.S. at risk for mental-health problems
April 4th, 2011
06:21 PM ET

Mexican immigrants to U.S. at risk for mental-health problems

Moving can be hard. You have to figure out your way around a new town and get to know new people. For immigrants, it can be especially difficult. Often, you have to learn a new language. The food is different. It can be lonely being far from family and friends. You hunger for something familiar.

That seems to be especially true for people who move from Mexico to the United States. A new study finds Mexicans who migrate are far more likely to experience significant depression and anxiety than people who stay in Mexico.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine collaborated with colleagues at the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico. They interviewed 550 Mexicans who migrated to the United States and 2,500 others who stayed in Mexico.

The researchers defined "migrant" as someone who was born in Mexico and living in the U.S. at the time he or she was interviewed.

Researchers found that during the time right after they arrived in America, Mexican migrants were nearly twice as likely to experience depression or anxiety issues. People between 18 and 25 have the greatest risk of being depressed, nearly four and a half times greater than Mexican peers who don't emigrate.

"From the Mexican side, this study is very important, because most of what we know about ... is based on studies carried out in the U.S. only," said Guilherme Borges, senior researcher with the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico in a news release. "Now, for the first time, we have data that compares the situation in the U.S. and in Mexico."

According to 2007 census numbers, about 12 million people living in the United States were born in Mexico. They make up 30 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population.

So why the increase in mental health issues? "Researchers have suggested for many years that the experience of being an immigrant, navigating a strange culture under harsh circumstances, would cause mental health problems. In this study we were not able to directly measure specific types of stressors, but we were able to test this important prediction of the theory that had not been tested," according to study author Joshua Breslau of UC-Davis Medical School.

The study appears in the April edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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