Mexican Migration and Mental Health

By Laura Clevenger, Staff Writer

Migration from Mexico to the United States is not going away. Media sources, like the New York Times, write of the “Mexican moment”—a radical idea that Mexico is having an economic revival—(NY Times, 2013) but in his lecture on the evolution of the Mexican economy, UPAEP professor, Werner Voigt (2014), sites corruption as the true “Mexican moment.” Mexico’s 0.8% 2013 GDP expansion is far from the explosive economic expansion talked about in the media (Voigt, 2014). Looking at the facts rather than fabricated newspaper articles, it is clear that the economic opportunities in Mexico are lacking and this stagnant economy will continue to drive Mexicans north of the border. Heymann et al. (2009) found that recent immigrants to the U.S. contributed $770 pesos on average each month to the household income before migrating. Once the migrants are successfully in Mexico, remittances are nearly twice that at $1738 pesos a month (Heymann et al., 2009). Migrant households averaged an income of $5203 pesos per month while non-migrant households averaged $4235 pesos per month (Heymann et al., 2009). The number of Mexican migrants in the United States will increase even as the process of migration becomes more difficult due to cost and the implementation of strict border policies. As the population continues to grow, it is important to examine the unique health outcomes and disparities this population experiences and how public health professionals can reduce these disparities and improve the overall physical and mental health of this important population.

Mental health is an integral aspect of health and well-being as defined by the World Health Organization (1948): “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Unlike physical health outcomes, mental health is abstract, a construct influenced by individual and cultural beliefs. As cultures mix and influence one another—as is inevitable with migration and globalization—protective and risk factors for poor mental health outcomes shift for the migrant. What was a protective factor in Mexico might be a risk factor in the United States. Mental health is not exclusive; it affects and is affected by other health outcomes, like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cancer (WHO, 2013). Those who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, like depression or schizophrenia, have a 40% to 60% greater chance of dying prematurely than the general population (WHO, 2013).

Although Mexico does not collect national data on the prevalence of mental health disorders in the country, a research study found that 26.1% of the nationally representative sample had experienced at least one mental health disorder in their life (RESOURCE). This data is similar to the data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that says that 26.2% of Americans adults suffer a mental disorder in a given year. Examining the determinants of mental health in both Mexico and the United States highlights how these factors may change as the migrant moves and what determinants should be addressed through interventions, additional research, and policy changes in order to improve mental health outcomes in the Mexican migrant population.

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