Recent immigrants to the United States face many barriers, including xenophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant legislation. When it comes to conversations about mental health, immigrants are often left out of the picture, even though studies show that many recent immigrants tend to have higher rates of mental health issues and face significant barriers to obtaining support to alleviate their mental health issues. This article illustrates the prevalence of mental health issues among recent immigrants, as well as what people can do to support recent immigrants.

Policies related to immigrants are often aimed at undocumented immigrants. With the recent policy changes to the program DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), immigrants with undocumented status are living in heightened stress knowing they could be at risk for deportation as soon as their DACA status expires. Having an undocumented status can also prevent immigrants from seeking mental health care for fear of being outed as undocumented. Immigrants in general tend to have a higher rate of having experienced trauma, and past trauma is shown to have an impact on a person’s mental health and can often lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety (Kaltman, Green, Mete, Shara, and Miranda, 2010). Recent immigrants are also likely to have a hard time fi nding a provider who speaks the same language as them. One study found that recent immigrants tend to have more mental health issues than immigrants who have been in the U.S. longer (Kaltman et al., 2010), demonstrating that there is a high need to provide services to recent immigrants, and especially services in immigrants' native language.

Another barrier that recent immigrants face in accessing care is cultural stigma within their own communities. I will use my own family as an example: my mom had many unaddressed mental health needs when she came to the U.S. from the Philippines and wasn’t able to talk to her family about it because in Filipinx culture it’s a taboo to talk about mental health. My mom went decades without seeking mental health care because she knew she would be judged by her family members.

Many organizations have been implementing integrated care which includes both primary care and behavioral health, and many of these organizations aim their services towards immigrants who speak a language other than English. Studies show that recent immigrants much prefer to receive mental healthrelated care in a primary care setting (Kaltman et al., 2016). Supporting organizations who are already providing care to immigrants in such a setting is just one way our community can support immigrants.

In Seattle, there are a number of organizations dedicated to supporting immigrants and refugees with culturally relevant care and native language services. Here are a few doing great work in our community:

Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS): Promotes social justice and the well-being and empowerment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities – including immigrants, refugees, and American-born – by developing, providing and advocating for innovative, effective and efficient community-based multilingual and multicultural services.

Seattle Counseling Service: Immigrant, Refugee, and Undocumented Outreach (IRUO), a program to serve LGBTQ immigrant, refugee and undocumented individuals in the Seattle-King County area.

Puentes:Standing with immigrant families through access to mental health. Our broken immigration system threatens the health of family life in communities all across the United States. Puentes mobilizes mental health resources to help undocumented migrants and their families cope and flourish despite our broken immigration system.

About the Author: Julia is a student at University of Washington, and was a NAMI Seattle intern in 2017 while working on her Bachelor's in Social Work.


Kaltman, S., Green, B. L., Mete, M., & Shara, N. (2010). Trauma, Depression, and Comorbid PTSD/ Depression in a Community Sample of Latina Immigrants. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 2(1) pp. 31-39.

Kaltman, S., de Mendoza, A. H., Serrano, A., & Gonzales, F. A. (2016). A Mental Health Intervention Strategy for Low-Income, Trauma-Exposed Latina Immigrants in Primary Care: A Preliminary Study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 86(3) pp. 345-354.

Ruiz, J. M., Gallardo, M. E., & Delgado-Romero, E. A. (2013). Latinas/os and Immigration Reform: A Commentary to “Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century”—The Report the APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration. Journal of Latina/o Psychology 1(3) pp. 149-154.