UNIQUE AND HORRIFYING HEALTH ISSUES IMMIGRANTS IN AMERICA FACE
Immigrants traditionally come to America to seek greater opportunities, political and religious freedoms, and a safer life.
On their journeys, many immigrants face horrific, often fatal disease that they have difficulty treating both in their home countries and America. These are the health issues plaguing American immigrants today.
The Migrant Clinician’s Network states, “All migrants are subject to structural and situational influences that may demonstrably affect their mental state.” This includes developing an anxiety disorder as a result of family separation, low job security, and little community support.
Immigrants may meet resistance attempting to seek anxiety treatment. Language and cultural barriers often stand between immigrants and the appropriate resources needed to combat anxiety.
“The strain of burying the past, losing one identity and embracing another, can be overwhelming,” Roger Cohen writes in his New York Times article, “The Battle to Belong.” Immigrants are taught they must assimilate to a new culture, home, and often language to succeed in America. As a result, their personal heritage is pushed to the background.
The American Psychological Association analyzed how practicing psychologists help immigrant children address and treat their depression. They found that a key factor to aid these children is staffing shelters with trustworthy professionals.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was first recognized as a syndrome among war veterans. Most of the research on PTSD in immigrants has been conducted on refugees from war-torn areas. In a study conducted by Krista M. Perreira, Ph.D. and India Ornelas, Ph.D., 19 – 54% of refugee children experienced PTSD. These rates fall well above prevalence rates of 2 – 9% in studies reflecting the general population.
The National Center for PTSD details the causes, effects, and potential resources for immigrants struggling with PTSD. The center’s website came to the conclusion that there’s little knowledge of effective psychological interventions for refugees. The center suggested support groups and therapeutic activity centers as potential treatments.
Immigrants may be at a greater risk of developing cancer than U.S. born citizens. Immigrants may also receive a diagnoses later than the average patient. Many factors influence cancer risk in migrants including genetics, cultural perspectives and practices, and access to health services.
According to the Migrant Clinicians Network, “Immigrants may be at a higher risk of exposure to cancer-causing chemicals than the general population because of their occupations, as migrants often work in industries that rely heavily on chemicals that are known or probable carcinogens.”
Many immigrants who travel to the U.S. to seek a healthier life are at greater risk in their native country to contract HIV/AIDS. The Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health found that HIV diagnosis rates in the African-born population are six times higher than estimated incidence in the general U.S. population.
The HIV Law and Policy organization recognizes how the lack of health care available to many immigrant populations interferes with HIV testing, treatment, and prevention. Their HIV Policy Resource Bank offers materials to help immigrants and their advocates overcome the obstacles they face living with HIV/AIDS.
Tuberculosis case rates tend to be higher among migrant populations. The disease is challenging and complicated to treat. If an immigrant decides to migrate during treatment they could potentially not completely heal. One of the world’s most deadly diseases, TB may have fatal consequences for immigrants with little access to good health services in the U.S.
MCN reports that parts of Central America and the Caribbean have higher rates of hepatitis B than America. Central American countries are common origins for migrant workers in the U.S. While infants in the U.S. receive their hepatitis B vaccines at birth, many immigrants don’t in their host countries.
Clinicians should vaccinate young adults and test those born in countries that could have higher rates of the viral infection. However, many clinics don’t have the funding for adult immunizations that could protect uninfected Latin American immigrants from hepatitis B. MCN is advocating for funding for these resources.