Dealing with mental health

February 22, 2021

Mental health is something many parents aren’t equipped to handle. This line of logic is something that especially applies to immigrant parents. Mental health is an issue that has gained increasing traction in the last couple of years and is something that many families in the U.S. discuss. The difference with first generation families is that these issues are not discussed. Even though they can be coped with and managed with support from a therapist or family members, many immigrant parents see mental health problems as saying that their parenting is inadequate. This is not true, seeing as everyone (including all parents, immigrant or not) deals with some form of mental health trouble.

A younger Inesa stands on a platform with a flower dressed in her ice skating apparel. (Inesa Linker (’23))

First-generation families are slow to accept this, partly due to the fact that they grew up in countries where perfection was the standard. Speaking from experience, my mother grew up behind the iron curtain of the Soviet Union. In a teaching job at age 20, she grew up quickly taking many different advanced courses and putting pressure on herself to be a model student and fit the mold of a “perfect Soviet,” which was something ingrained into her life. These expectations were given to my mother by her mother, and then they were given to me by my mother. As a little girl, I was a figure skater. This hobby became something that consumed my mother, and soon enough I felt an exceeding amount of pressure to master each jump and spin as well as compete in high profile competitions. The truth was I didn’t particularly want to keep figure skating-especially not competitively. Young as I was, this took a toll on my mental health, and the way I see myself. Naturally, I am a person who seeks praise from others and watching my mother during and after practice, I became obsessed with getting her and my coach’s approval. To this day, even though I am no longer a skater, I seek her praise and feel that many things I do don’t measure up because they don’t receive the reaction I expect. I know this is a common experience for many first-generation children. High expectations may result in mental health issues.

According to escholarship.org, many studies conducted in higher levels of education show that first-generation students are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, high levels of stress, and lower life satisfaction. These are symptoms that students at the high school level cope with as well. I know very well the distress that I and several of my friends go into before grades are finalized or the night before a test. However, these feelings persist long after the test and can often make one feel isolated and alone because who else feels like waves are constantly crashing over them and they can’t get up so what’s the point? The answer it turns out is many people.

Believe it or not, immigrant parents especially struggle with mental health issue. For example, cambridge.org published an article in 2009 discussing the widely untreated psychological distress recent Soviet immigrants were under, and the US National Library of Medicine published a study in 2015 investigating the use of mental health services by immigrants and found that of the 40 million or so immigrants in America, less than the national average of 13% utilized any services despite an equal or more pressing need for it. One study of Asian and Latino immigrants found that only 6% of immigrants had ever received mental health care, making them 40% less likely than U.S. born participants to access services.

What immigrant parents seem to miss is that discussing and being open about those feelings will often help a student cope with the feelings and help them realize they don’t need to hide their feelings or feel ‘broken’ because of them. Mental health is finally getting the attention that it deserves in America, and more people are realizing its importance in the well-being and health of a person. But the curtain that mental health has hid behind for so many years can not be so easily removed in the eyes of immigrants. That curtain is shrouded in shame, and peeling it back reveals a not so pleasant topic that they are unwilling to embrace. It is so important for first-generation students to embrace the mental health questions that their parents often shy away from. Hopefully, mental health will no longer feel like a taboo and something that needs to be hidden behind a curtain.

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