Immigration and Acculturative Stress

Immigration is a major life event that can be difficult and stressful for individuals and families.  Moving to a new country can present a number of challenges including:

  • Loss of family and social support
  • Loss of former economic and social status
  • Language barriers
  • Discrimination
  • Lack of familiarity with the education and health systems
  • Loss of professional status if the individual’s previous training and qualifications are not accepted in the new country
  • Incongruent cultural values and practices, leading to self-consciousness about the individual’s native culture
  • Parental fear of a loss of cultural heritage in their children
  • Children experiencing conflict between their values and those of their parents because they generally adapt to the new culture faster than their parents
  • Children feeling caught between the opposing values of their parents and their peers
  • In families where parents do not speak English, children may need to translate and facilitate communication on behalf of their parents, resulting in a power shift from the adults to the children

The stress experienced by immigrants that is associated with adapting, integrating or assimilating to the new culture is known as Acculturative Stress.  Acculturative stress can lead to a higher risk of developing mental health problems.  The effects have been found to be particularly profound for certain populations, such as women, children, and individuals with disabilities or limited financial resources.  Some of the mental health problems commonly seen as a result of acculturative stress are:

  • Low self-esteem and feelings of helplessness
  • Stress
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Adjustment Disorders
  • Depression and Suicide
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse
  • Family conflict
  • Disruptive behaviour and other problems in school children
  • Adolescent depression and suicide
  • Violence
  • Relationship difficulties

Some of the techniques that can help individuals cope with acculturative stress are:

  • Helping clients to understand the nature of their difficulties
  • Setting clear goals
  • Building strong social supports
  • Other cognitive-behavioural strategies that are tailored to the specific difficulties experienced by the individual

In addition, there is increasing evidence that help from culturally- and linguistically-appropriate professionals lessens the development and impact of mental health problems and enhances outcomes of acculturation.
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for Acculturative Stress, or book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 0405 430 530.

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