Anxiety surges among Latinx teens in the US amid deportation fears

Anxiety and sleepless nights are rampant among children of Mexican and Central American immigrants in the US, according to a new study. 

Nearly half of teenagers who have a parent that immigrated from one of these countries to California are worried about their families being split up by the Trump Administration’s policies. 

Their fears have deepened since the 2016 election – and as they do, rates of anxiety and sleep disorders surge, too, the new University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and Arizona State University (ASU) study found. 

The study authors suspect children outside of California – a sanctuary state with relatively lenient immigration policies – are living with even higher anxiety levels and more pressing fears for their families’ security. 

A family protests separations of immigrant parents from their children. Teen children of Latinx immigrants have high rates of anxiety under the Trump administration, a study suggests

With the exception of the two percent of the population that are Native Americans, every US family is an immigrant family. 

Some 18 million US children have at least one parent who immigrated from another country. 

These children have the same rights to mental health care that any other American does, but ‘changes in immigration policy contribute to fear of safety in traditionally safe spaces and are associated with decreased access to and utilization of health care and public services,’ wrote Dr Elizabeth Dawson-Hahn and Angélica Cházaro of the University of Washington in an editorial accompanying the new study.  

The new study, conducted by distinguished professors of public and pediatric health at UC Berkeley and ASU and published in JAMA Pediatrics, one of the most highly-vetted journals in the US, suggest these children may be in greatest need of mental health care. 

After the election, between 41 and 45 percent of the surveyed teens said they were worried ‘about the impact of immigration policies on the family,’ ‘about family separation due to deportation’ or ‘that a family member would be reported to immigration officials.’ 

The more frequent and the greater the number of the adolescents’ concerns, the higher their anxiety levels were and the more poorly they slept. 

President Trump campaigned on promises to build a wall to prevent people from entering the US from the south, and just last week touted his plans to deport ‘millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States’ in a tweet. 

‘They will be removed as fast as they come in.’ 

And last year, over 2,600 children were estimated to have been separated from their parents when families came to the US across the southern border.  

Even in California, which state lawmakers declared a sanctuary where residents could not be arrested on the basis of immigration status in 2017, many children and teenagers live in fear. 

Financial and personal security, as well as experience of racism are considered by the World Health Organization major determinants of mental health and well-being. 

The new study suggests that teen children of immigrants may feel that these aspects of day-to-day life are adding mounting pressure to their families – and therefore to their own mental health. 

Researchers at Berkeley started tracking the health of nearly 400 14-year-olds who were born in the US to one or more Latinx immigrant parents in 2016, prior to the presidential election. 

They took the teenagers’ blood pressure, BMI and rated their anxiety and depression symptoms on a standardized scale, then repeated the assessment two years later, after Trump was elected.

During their second assessment, at age 16, the quality of the children’s sleep was assessed, too. 

Following the election, the teens were more fearful, more anxious, and not sleeping as well.  

The results were disconcerting. 

And that doesn’t bode well for their futures, the authors of the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, say.  

‘These results are problematic, because high levels of anxiety are not necessarily fleeting,’ said Nancy Gonzales, study co-author and dean of Arizona State University’s school of natural sciences. 

‘They can impact other aspects of children’s well-being including their ability to stay focused in school, and if they are living with prolonged anxiety, that also has long-term effects on their physical health and susceptibility to problems like alcohol and substance abuse.’ 

Her co-author, Julianna Deardorff, a professor of maternal and child health at UC Berkeley’s school of public health said that these children face insidious threats beyond the immediate concern over their family’s safety. 

‘It’s not just that these youth are faced with the prospect of ICE coming to their door and taking away their parents, but in addition to that, they are having to navigate through settings that may not feel friendly in this political climate, in order to help themselves and their parents,’ she said.