How Immigration Can Impact Your Mental Health

Nothing could have prepared you for how it feels to live in a foreign country. Even if you made the choice to leave your home country to give yourself or your family a better life, it doesn’t change the struggles you encounter as an immigrant.

There are days where you might not feel accepted or welcomed by those around you. Other days, intense feelings of loneliness will come on so strong that they can make you question why you left home in the first place. Then once you reconnect with those reasons, you begin to feel the pressure again – the stress of having to suffer through all this for a better life. Only, sometimes, it doesn’t feel better at all.

Given the unique set of struggles and feelings that immigrants experience worldwide, immigration can greatly impact one’s mental health. Two key things that you must remember as immigrants are that you are not alone, and it does not have to feel like this forever. Taking care of your mental health as an immigrant is essential, and though it may seem easier said than done, it doesn’t have to be – not if you have the right set of practical tips to help you not only cope but thrive.

If you feel like you don’t belong

A sense of belonging is something that everyone loses touch with at some point in life. But as an immigrant, you might feel as if you have lost a sense of belonging for good. After all, when you look around you, nothing is the same. Your community has changed, as have your neighbors and your coworkers – everything and everyone is different.

Even if you have formed new friendships since moving to a new place, you might not have anyone around you at all who knows what immigration feels like – who knows what you feel like. You might catch yourself thinking how nice it would be if more people understood or at least invested interest in the community, country, and even family you love but left behind.

What you can do: Volunteer

Getting involved with a local organization will enable you to deepen your connection with your community and others. It is a great way to cultivate a sense of belonging by meeting new people who you know at least share one common interest: the greater good.

Volunteering also offers a world of benefits for your mental health. When you are suffering, giving back can help ease some of your emotional pain and mental turmoil because you are helping someone else – even if they are struggling in an entirely different way. Lending a hand can help direct your focus toward something positive, giving you a break from the tough stuff and unhelpful thought processes. On the days you feel the most like you don’t belong or do not matter, lend a hand and remember how important a role it is to do a task for someone who cannot.

If you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self or self-worth

When you leave your home country, everything about life as you knew it shifts to the point where you don’t even know who you are. On top of family, friends, and everything else, you might also feel like you’ve lost yourself along the way, too. There are many reasons why immigrants can end up feeling this way.

For one, you come from a place where the person you are always felt validated in some way. It was a place where everyone around you shared similar experiences, interests, or beliefs. When that level of familiarity suddenly changes, and nobody knows anything about who you are or where you come from, feeling disconnected from others can cause you to feel disconnected from yourself. You may sometimes take on a different persona at work and home or close yourself off from the world.

There is also the culture shock that immigrants experience. Over time, the things that seem more trivial such as unusual foods to the language barriers that interfere with your basic daily routines will undoubtedly begin to annoy and irritate you. In many ways, culture shock can contribute to anxiety, depression, and more profound feelings of loneliness. 

What you can do: Get to know yourself

Moving to a new country doesn’t mean that you have changed, but when you lose touch with who you are and the things you value, it is essential to get reacquainted. One of the best ways to do this is to spend some time alone.

Try incorporating a meditation or yoga practice into your day – something that helps aid your self-exploration while reassuring you that who you are is enough. Alternatively, you can start reading more books or trying out new hobbies. 

As you focus on re-establishing your sense of self, remember that getting to know yourself can also mean accepting and embracing change. Whether or not you pick up any new skills along the way, getting to know yourself better, in general, will make you feel more confident and comfortable in your skin. So when you’re feeling up for it, maybe next time you find a local club or team to engage in these new interests with.

If you feel lonely

As immigrants, it can sometimes feel like you are stuck in time, where the feeling of what it’s like to be home is a distant memory. Loneliness a prevalent issue among immigrants. Sadly, loneliness is not always visible to the outside world, despite more connectedness with the outside being the answer.

The problem with persistent feelings of isolation and a lack of social interaction is their association with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. This mental and emotional impact can also take a physical toll on the body, contributing to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. In other words, connectedness isn’t just a way of coping with the unpleasant feelings of perceived isolation; it is necessary for overall health and wellbeing.

What you can do: Express yourself creatively

You don’t have to consider yourself “creative” to create. You can draw, paint, sketch, knit, build something, or plant something – there are so many ways to transcend and release your negative unfavorable, and distressing emotions through self-expression.

You can also explore expressive writing, a form of writing where you don’t have to worry about structure, spelling, or anything else. Instead, you just write whatever is on your mind, paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. This practice can help you alleviate emotional pain and make you more aware of unhelpful thought patterns.

In terms of loneliness, writing can help you feel more connected to others, even if you don’t ever share your words with anyone. Writing can produce a feeling similar to being in a room with others who listen to the same song or watch the same movie. You don’t have to talk to anyone to know that you are connected to many other immigrants through your shared hardships and experiences.

 

Jorge Sánchez

When Jorge Sánchez was only 19 years old, he was just another young man, working hard on a small farm back in Colombia. He had big dreams but always felt unsettled about his living situation at the time. Not long after that, Jorge had no idea, but his life was about to change.

In 1991, things didn’t look good in Colombia as the cartel used to control most of the country. Violent attacks against the population were common at that time so when the opportunity presented itself, Jorge made one of the biggest decisions of his life – move to the United States to pursue the American Dream. This week we had the opportunity to interview this hardworking man, and this is how it went:

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself and the reasons why you decided to move to the USA in the first place.

 

Well, Hi my name is Jorge Sánchez. I was born and raised in Armenia, Colombia. I grew up as the oldest son among my five siblings in a very small farmhouse with my parents. Things weren’t easy back there you know. We used to struggle for the basics like eating, having decent clothes to wear, and having a roof over our heads. I started working on a farm when I was only 11 years old to help my parents support my family and feed my younger siblings. Like I didn’t really have time to enjoy my life or anything. It was just work, work , work, and yet we were always extremely poor. Then one day I met a friend that had some family members that lived in the USA, and he told me how good they lived in America. Up to that point I never really heard anything about the US but once I found out about it, I became really hopeful that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel, you know, like a chance to live a better life.

 

How did you feel when you first got to the United States? Were you scared or excited? And what did you do first?

 

When I first got here in the USA, I went to work on a small farm in Allen County, Indiana. I was really grateful for the opportunity, and I worked hard just like I was used to work back home. The first year or two were very difficult as I struggle a lot to learn English. There were times when I thought I would never learn the new language to be honest. I just didn’t seem to understand but I kept going. I even used to go to a library to read books, or at least try to, so I could learn English. I used to ride my bicycle for like 10 miles or more, just so I could have access to these English books. Oh, and I’d say I was definitely scared when I first moved here. I was excited when thinking about it back in Colombia, but once you get here the reality hits you, and you know there’s absolutely no one to rely on, things can be a little scary at first.

 

How long did you work on the farm? And was there a turning point where you decided you wanted more in life?

 

I worked on the farm for about 10 years but in the last two or three years, I was already checked out you know, I started to read more and more books in that library I mentioned, and I was getting good at it already. Like at that point I already spoke English, drove my own beat-up truck, and was way more independent. And absolutely, once I started to really understand the books I was reading, my mind started to expand, and I started to have the desired to educate myself and go after something bigger in life. Don’t get me wrong though, there is nothing wrong with farm work but it’s really hard, and after working on that for like 18 years, I was done with it so I decided to move to New York.

 

Wow! Moving from a small farm in Indiana to New York City was a big leap of faith, right? How was it?

 

Oh yes absolutely! It was early 2001 when I moved to Brooklyn NY. I was so impressed by everything, like so many people in the same place. It was crazy at first, but at that point, I knew I was in the right place if I wanted something better in my life. I knew the opportunities I could get in a big city like New York were just so much bigger and better compared to being kind of isolated working and living on a small farm.

 

That’s awesome! I’m sure it takes courage for such a bold move! But how did things work out in New York for you ever since?

 

Well, I’ve been in New York for the past 20 years and I think it was the second-best decision I ever made in my life. The first was to move to America but the second was to come to NY for sure. When I got here, I didn’t waste any time. I decided to finally go back to school and get a degree in Industrial Engineering. I worked in construction, manufacturing, restaurants, and pretty much anything legal and ethical to support myself while in college. After I graduated, I worked in a few jobs in different companies to get experience and was able to work my way up into a senior management position for an Energy Company which I have had for the past 10 years. Now I have my own house, my family, and I’m able to help the people I love the most back in Colombia and here in the USA as well so I can say I’m blessed.

 

Congratulations Jorge I’m so glad for you. Your story is so inspiring! Now, if you were to give some advice for any immigrant out there, not necessarily in the USA, but around the world, what would that be?

 

Well, I could say so many things, but if it’s only one, I’d say don’t try to cut corners or take any shortcuts. It takes hard work and time to build something solid whether you are an immigrant or not, so have a plan, stay focused, work hard and believe you can do it and you will! Oh, and always do the right thing! Always!

 

Disclaimer: The ImmiPower Hall of Fame was created for motivational purposes only. We do not encourage any form of immigration. It is a personal decision and we advise anyone considering migrating, to seek legal information from an immigration attorney or consulate.

 

 

How Did The Pandemic Affect Immigrants In The USA?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused trying times for people all over the world. This is a different age, one that no one was prepared for—though governments should’ve been. The last outbreak before COVID was just eleven years prior in 2009 with H1N1, and even though, the number of deaths for the H1N1 pandemic was much lower than COVID, it should have taught the world leaders a lesson.

The impact of COVID on a global scale cannot be understated, and perhaps no one has been hit harder than immigrants in the United States and all over the world.

In February 2020, the Trump administration began rolling out travel restrictions in response to the virus. While the notion behind these measures was “essential”—attempting to curb the spread of the virus was crucial—the execution and what these measures turned into was for many, if not all, inappropriate.

During a pandemic, traveling to a country with a high level of COVID-19 is a major risk, but it seemed as though an unnecessary overarching theme to these travel restrictions was to prevent immigration to the US altogether. A country, especially a free country, is built on freedom, and the ability of its people to come and go and they please.

A stressful and anxiety-ridden time like a pandemic is not the ideal time to be separated from your family. It’s even less ideal when people are prevented from seeing family. Humans are social creatures by nature, and we all need love and support.

Too many people know the difficulties of long-distance relationships, both romantic and not. Being separated from your family is hard.  Being told you are legally not allowed to go visit them is even harder.

On March 20, 2020, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all consulates and embassies over the world. This also included the cancelation of all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.

What did that mean? Employment and family-based immigration visas were suspended full-stop. This went above and beyond just people wanting to immigrate legally to the United States. It also applied to lawful permanent residents (LPRs), relatives of U.S. citizens, and all applicants for skilled workers, nonimmigrant visas for visitors, and students.

H-2 visas were still processed. Those cover temporary agricultural workers and emergency visa issues. These bans were in full effect until mid-July.

To put it in the clearest terms: the United States stopped allowing almost everyone that wasn’t already a legal citizen or resident, from entering the country.

As I said before, travel restrictions were the proper path, but the travel bans quickly escalated into something else. Immigration is not an easy path to take. Uprooting one’s entire life, and their family, to start over again in a foreign world where everything is new and different takes courage and determination.

There’s a reason why an overwhelming number of immigrants work multiple jobs, long hours, holidays, weekends, and essentially any other time that others do not generally want to work. They know the struggle they went through. They know what it took to start a new life, to give their children and their spouse a better life.

Imagine doing all that, then being told you’re not good enough to be here. Unfortunately, that is the reality for many immigrants. The number of jobs that immigrants hold is a staggering statistic. The truth that immigration is essential to the US economy and the success of the workforce is glaring and obvious.

Equally as striking and stressful as the travel bans were the multiple closures and lockdowns. The virus was spreading at a rapid rate. The government and businesses had to react. Lockdowns were “necessary”, but that doesn’t make them any easier to experience.

When lockdowns are imposed, businesses close. Curfews come into effect. People lose jobs, people lose lives. It is effectively a self-imposed economic depression. It’s already difficult for immigrants to find jobs in many fields, and when many jobs are cut at once, that issue becomes even greater.Essential workers are the only job force kept in operation, and an immigrant is more likely to be let go than a non-immigrant when essential jobs face strains. Of course, legally that isn’t the position of any company, but a glance at statistics will tell otherwise.

This leads many workers to have to file for unemployment. The unemployment compensation in the U.S. is notoriously inefficient. Some states grant a maximum of only $275 a week. There isn’t a state in the U.S. where a person can adequately support themselves with $1100 a month, much less support a family.

When one is forced from their job, when one experiences difficulties, they look to turn to their support system. Imagine you live in another country, working as hard as you can to save money to bring your family to a better life. Imagine your support system being in another country, and now you can’t see them in a time of need.

Not everyone could rely on unemployment during the pandemic, and many were forced to look for other jobs after their positions were cut due to lockdowns or company layoffs. Finding work for an immigrant can already be a difficult task.

Finding work during a pandemic makes that task even trickier. The number of companies that are hiring is limited, and the positions being hired for are limited. Essential jobs were often grocery story, customer service, and agricultural jobs. Not everyone has experience in these areas, and not every immigrant is fluent enough in English to work in customer service.

These factors limit the jobs that immigrants can apply for, and during a time when so many jobs have been lost and so many people are now applying for the limited jobs that are hiring, immigrants can experience a more difficult job search.

There is no way around the glaring fact that the policies put into place during the pandemic made not only immigration nearly impossible, but those policies also made the lives of immigrants living in the U.S. more difficult than necessary.

Okay, so…. what is left?

As we are seeing the government finally stepping in and lifting the COVID-19 restrictions across the country – at least the lockdowns – we must be creative, ready to get back to work and do what we can to support and empower each other within our community.

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🇺🇸 This spot can be yours! Go to the “Share Your Story” page, send us your story today, and if we select your story to be featured, you get a FREE t-shirt! United We are Stronger!

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🇺🇸 This spot can be yours! Go to the “Share Your Story” page, send us your story today, and if we select your story to be featured, you get a FREE t-shirt! United We are Stronger!

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🇺🇸 This spot can be yours! Go to the “Share Your Story” page, send us your story today, and if we select your story to be featured, you get a FREE t-shirt! United We are Stronger!

🇪🇸 ¡Este lugar puede ser tuyo! Vaya a la página “Comparta su historia”, envíenos su historia hoy, y si seleccionamos su historia para ser destacada, ¡obtendrá una camiseta GRATIS! ¡Unidos Somos Más Fuertes!

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🇺🇸 This spot can be yours! Go to the “Share Your Story” page, send us your story today, and if we select your story to be featured, you get a FREE t-shirt! United We are Stronger!

🇪🇸 ¡Este lugar puede ser tuyo! Vaya a la página “Comparta su historia”, envíenos su historia hoy, y si seleccionamos su historia para ser destacada, ¡obtendrá una camiseta GRATIS! ¡Unidos Somos Más Fuertes!

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🇺🇸 This spot can be yours! Go to the “Share Your Story” page, send us your story today, and if we select your story to be featured, you get a FREE t-shirt! United We are Stronger!

🇪🇸 ¡Este lugar puede ser tuyo! Vaya a la página “Comparta su historia”, envíenos su historia hoy, y si seleccionamos su historia para ser destacada, ¡obtendrá una camiseta GRATIS! ¡Unidos Somos Más Fuertes!

🇧🇷 Este lugar pode ser seu! Vá para a página “Compartilhe sua história”, envie-nos sua história hoje e se selecionarmos sua história, você ganha uma camiseta GRÁTIS! Unidos Somos Mais Fortes!

🇨🇳 这个地方可以是你的! 转到“分享您的故事”页面,今天将您的故事发送给我们,如果我们选择您的故事进入名人堂,您将获得一件免费 T 恤!团结就是力量!