For Latina immigrant women, racial discrimination and family issues are key sources of stress as they try to adapt to U.S. culture, according to new research at the University of Illinois. But whether this cultural stress translates into psychological distress depends on a variety of other factors.
The study, published in the Journal of Immigrant Minority Health, examined the impact of various factors on the psychological distress and acculturative stress experienced by more than 630 Latina immigrant women who moved to the U.S. mainland from Cuba, Mexico, or Puerto Rico.
The researchers pulled data from the National Latino Asian American Survey, a mental health study that included more than 2,500 Latinos.
“Using an ecological-based model called family stress management, we found that acculturative stress did not always lead to poor mental health,” said Venera Bekteshi, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois.
“It really depended on what we controlled for and what was going on in the person’s life. When Latinas had many negative things going on, such as discrimination, poverty, and family-culture conflict, the acculturative stress lost significance because there were all these other issues that they were dealing with. But when they had fewer positive elements in their lives, such as family support, the acculturative stress did lead to poor mental health.”
The participants’ residency in the U.S. varied, from less than five years to more than 20 years. Latinas who had stayed between five and 10 years experienced the highest levels of acculturative stress, the researchers found.
“Recent immigrants may not be as vulnerable to acculturative stress because they are focused on the potential opportunities and are working hard to help their families after they relocate,” Bekteshi said.
“But after a while, the excitement may wear off, and they’ve got issues with their children, because not everyone acculturates and learns English at the same pace,” Bekteshi said.
“This leads to depression and anxiety, since it’s very important to Latina women to be good moms and to feel a connection with their children. Plus, these women also may be working multiple jobs, very difficult jobs, yet they have all these domestic tasks awaiting them at home, which their spouses may or may not help with because the men believe in traditional gender roles.”
Family is very important to Latina women, and so familial issues, including difficulties keeping close ties with family living far away and cultural conflicts within the immediate family, were particularly stressful.
Family support, and the women’s belief in the Latino cultural value “familismo,” which promotes interconnectedness among family members, emerged as protective factors against psychological distress for all the women.
The amount of racial discrimination that the women perceived in their communities and their families’ economic hardships were also significant factors contributing to their acculturative stress levels, according to the research.
For all of the subjects, the acculturative stress that peaked at five to 10 years in the U.S. declined the longer that they lived in the U.S.; however, as the women aged, they became more prone to depression and anxiety.
Source: University of Illinois