Are Immigrants more Prone to Anxiety?

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By Jenny Bui / March 1, 2017

A new language, a new environment, a new school, a new home?

Moving to a new country can be difficult for children of immigrant families, especially when those children are already prone to anxiety.

Particularly children with a withdrawn temperament who show behavioral inhibition are at a high risk for developing an anxiety disorder.

In his article “Immigration and Stress: The Relationship Between Parents’ Acculturative Stress and Young Children’s Anxiety Symptoms” Alberto L. Leon links the elevated risk to the process of acculturation.

Acculturation is understood as being the result of the coming – into – contact of two or more cultures and the changes in the respective cultures that may or may not result from it.

According to Berry’s theoretical framework, intercultural relations can be mediated by the attempt of individuals to maintain their cultural identity and behaviour (cultural maintenance) or by readily interacting with others’ cultural groups and society (contact-participation).

The non-dominant groups (immigrants in most of the cases) would apply four key strategies when addressing intercultural relations:

Assimilation, separation, integration, and marginalization.

Assimilation: Interacting with other cultures while neglecting the own culture.

Separation: Refraining from contact with other cultures while striving to keep the own culture

Integration: Striving to become part of other groups while holding on to own culture

Marginalisation: failure to maintain any culture due to not seeking contact with other cultures while loss of own culture

De Las Fuentes named “barriers to social acceptance, cultural difference, scarce ethnic and cultural resources, stress related to immigration and migration issues, and prejudice and discrimination” as stressors for developing an anxiety disorder.

Furthermore, the level of acculturative stress depends on the strategy individuals choose to apply when communicating with another culture. While assimilation and integration are known for causing less psychological distress, separation and marginalisation tend to lead to a high degree of stress. But we shouldn’t forget that – considering that immigrants tend to be the non-dominating group – more often than not, individuals do not get to chose which of the strategies they would like to use and are hence unable to deal with anxiety.

About the author

Jenny Bui


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