Mental Health Care for Immigrant Youth

By: Kristine Alarcon

In this June 20, 2014 photo, immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally stand in line for tickets at the bus station after they were released from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in McAllen, Texas. The immigrants entered the country through an area referred to as zone nine. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


On April 21, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Dream Resource Center (DRC) released a study called “Pol(ICE) in My Head.” The study focused on the mental health of undocumented and uninsured youth revealing that there is limited access to health care for undocumented youth especially when it comes to mental health services.

Many immigrant youths are not utilizing resources such as social services and health care to better their well being because of their fear of deportation. They may feel stressed and even refuse to get treatment when they are ill. When seeing a physician, it is possible that they may have to disclose that they are undocumented.

Culture may also be an explanation as to why young immigrants are not seeking treatment. According to Trina Lei Pasumbal, a researcher and member of ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education). The pressure that comes with the Asian Pacific Islander (API) label as a “model minority” and being undocumented may take a toll on the youths’ mental health. They, especially API immigrants, may not reveal their feelings and problems, as mental illness is a stigma in their culture.

Language differences are another reason undocumented and uninsured youth are reluctant to seek mental health help. Communication between the immigrants and the health care providers can be difficult when they do not speak the same language. Other times, it can be hard to communicate, as there are no direct translations for some symptoms. For example, “the water in my heart has fallen” is a closer translation to “depression” in the Cambodian Khmer language because there is no direct translation for the word.

For Alberto Velazquez, who is a participant in Circle Project managed by DRC, the project helped to relieve his stress level as he was growing up as an undocumented immigrant and a working student. He agrees with the Health for All bill, a legislation sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara that would provide health care for everyone in the state of California even if a patient has immigrant or undocumented status. However, the bill is still in the process of becoming law in the state legislature.


Sundaram, Viji. “Undocumented Immigrant Youth on Constant “High Alert” – Study.” New America Media.—-study.php

Kristine Alarcon is a senior at the University of San Francisco working towards a Bachelors of Science in Biology. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.

Photo Credit: (Tate, K)



Leave a Comment