Immigration and Mental Health


Purpose of Review

While the experience of migration and resettlement in a new country is associated with mental health risks, immigrants generally demonstrate better mental health than expected. This review describes patterns in mental health outcomes among immigrants. We discuss a conceptual model of the potential underlying mechanisms that could buffer the stress and disadvantage experienced by this substantial and growing population.

Recent Findings

While epidemiological studies have established a general pattern of lower risk for mental health disorders among first-generation (foreign-born) immigrants in the USA, recent studies highlight how this pattern varies substantially by the intersection of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and socioeconomic status. Contextual factors including the family and neighborhood context, an immigrant’s social position, experiences of social support and social exclusion, language competency and ability, and exposure to discrimination and acculturative stress further influence the relationship between immigration and mental health.


We conclude with an emphasis on social resilience processes, with a focus on how immigrants develop social relations, social capital, and social networks. We recommend future directions for research that prioritize identifying and understanding social adaptation strategies adopted by immigrant groups to cope with immigration stressors.

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    Puerto Rico is part of the USA and Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico are US citizens; therefore, migration from Puerto Rico to the continental USA is best classified as internal migration. However, cultural and linguistic differences between Puerto Rico and the continental USA result in a migration process that is more similar to migration from other Latin American countries than it is to internal migration between US states.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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This study is supported by Research Grant R01DA034952, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This study was also supported by NIH Research Grant no. R01 MH098374 funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Alvarez was supported by Research Grant R01MH098374-03S1, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Margarita Alegría.

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Margarita Alegría, Kiara Álvarez, and Karissa DiMarzio each declare no potential conflict of interest.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Social Epidemiology

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Alegría, M., Álvarez, K. & DiMarzio, K. Immigration and Mental Health. Curr Epidemiol Rep 4, 145–155 (2017).

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  • Immigration
  • Mental health
  • Psychiatric
  • Culture
  • Social resilience
  • Epidemiology