Children of migrant agricultural workers are difficult to study. Migrant families may be wary of or disconnected from points of health care provision or other formal avenues for study. Consequently, little is known about their mental health, despite the heightened risks due to their mobility. However, two new studies shed some light on the mental health risks and needs of children of migrant agricultural workers.
In one 2022 article, a group of researchers conducted a systematic review of studies on suicidal ideation, self-harm, suicide attempts, and death due to suicide among young migrants. The researchers found limited data on migrant youth, consistent with a lack of research on migrants overall. The few studies meeting their criteria stated that young migrants experience higher rates of self-harm and suicide attempt compared to other age groups, but there were no major differences in suicidal ideation and suicide death compared to non-migrant young people.
A second 2022 study examined the mental health of children of Latinx migrant agricultural workers to determine whether acculturative stressors – conflicts the children may experience between their receiving communities’ culture in the US and their family’s culture of origin – contributed to mental health issues. Migrant agricultural worker children in the study reported encountering numerous stressors of this type including educational disruptions and dislocation, and the social and educational barriers that result; low levels of English proficiency, which contribute to poorer academic performance; discrimination and marginalization; and legal status. Additionally, the majority of youth in the study described feelings of loss from separation from family members because of their migrations. After reviewing child self-reports, teacher reports, and qualitative interviews, the researchers concluded that there was an association between acculturative stressors and poor mental health in these children.
Despite these strains, however, the researchers found that supportive, involved, and nurturant migrant agricultural worker parents – particularly mothers -- seemed to buffer against some of the negative stressors related to migration. In qualitative interviews, a majority of youth stated that they rely on their mothers during challenging times. Almost all of the youth participants in the study “described their families as exemplars of how to overcome adversity,” the researchers noted. “My mom has been through hard times, [yet] she’ll always keep her head up. I’ll always be there for her. Like she’s one of my, like, my [role] models cause she, even though she’s gone through hard times, she’ll always keep her head up,” explained one 12-year-old female participant.
Both studies seem to point to a high resilience among young migrants, despite significant educational and social disruption, marginalization, severe poverty, and numerous other profound barriers. “There has been increased attention to the mental health problems affecting youth during the pandemic, even though the data suggest the trend in increased anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation in youth has been a growing problem stretching back years before 2020,” noted Kaethe Weingarten, PhD, Director of Migrant Clinicians Network’s Witness to Witness program. “Migrant youth seem to be no exception.”
Witness to Witness offers monthly newsletters with updates on the program’s new resources, and news and insight on the health needs of marginalized populations and the health care providers who support them: http://www.migrantclinician.org/w2w.
1 Basu A, Boland A, Witt K, Robinson J. Suicidal Behaviour, including Ideation and Self-Harm, in Young Migrants: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(14):8329. Published 2022 Jul 7. doi:10.3390/ijerph19148329
2 Taylor Z, Ruiz Y, Nair N, Mishra AA. Family support and mental health of Latinx children in migrant farmworker families. Applied Developmental Science. 2022; 26:2, 329-346, Published 27 August 2020. DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2020.1800466
3 Chen Y, Cowden RG, Fulks J, Plake JF, VanderWeele TJ. National Data on Age Gradients in Well-being Among US Adults.
JAMA Psychiatry. 2022;79(10):1046-1047. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.2473
Read this article in the Winter 2023 issue of Streamline here!
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