Migration from Mexico to the United States and Subsequent Risk for Depressive and Anxiety Disorders

A Cross-National Study

Published In: Archives of General Psychiatry, v. 68, no. 4, Apr. 2011, p. 428-433

Posted on RAND.org on April 01, 2011

by Joshua Breslau, Guilherme Borges, Daniel J. Tancredi, Naomi Saito, Richard L. Kravitz, Ladson Hinton, William A. Vega, María Elena Icaza Medina-Mora, Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola

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CONTEXT: Migration is suspected to increase risk for depressive and anxiety disorders. OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesized increase in risk for depressive and anxiety disorders after arrival in the United States among Mexican migrants. DESIGN: We combined data from surveys conducted separately in Mexico and the United States that used the same diagnostic interview. Discrete time survival models were specified to estimate the relative odds of first onset of depressive disorders (major depressive episode and dysthymia) and anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder) among migrants after their arrival in the United States compared with nonmigrant Mexicans who have a migrant in their immediate family. SETTING: Population surveys in the United States and Mexico. PARTICIPANTS: Two thousand five hundred nineteen nonmigrant family members of migrants in Mexico and 554 Mexican migrants in the United States. Main Outcome Measures: First onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder. RESULTS: After arrival in the United States, migrants had a significantly higher risk for first onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder than did nonmigrant family members of migrants in Mexico (odds ratio, 1.42; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-1.94). Associations between migration and disorder varied across birth cohorts. Elevated risk among migrants relative to nonmigrants was restricted to the 2 younger cohorts (those aged 18-25 or 26-35 years at interview). In the most recent birth cohort, the association between migration and first onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder was particularly strong (odds ratio, 3.89; 95% confidence interval, 2.74-5.53). CONCLUSIONS: This is, to our knowledge, the first study to compare risk for first onset of psychiatric disorder between representative samples of migrants in the United States and nonmigrants in Mexico. The findings are consistent with the hypothesized adverse effect of migration from Mexico to the United States on the mental health of migrants, but only among migrants in recent birth cohorts.

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