Nicole Filion
May 10, 2018

A new paper in PloS One by Department of Health Services Administration MPH student Nicole Filion shows that non-citizen immigrant adolescents have better mental health than their citizen counterparts, and that this protective effect fades out the longer they have been in the United States.

The paper, titled “Immigration, citizenship, and the mental health of adolescents,” explores the mental health outcomes of adolescent citizens and non-citizens using data from the National Health Interview Survey. Mental health was measured using a series of questions on mood, social relationships, and ability to pay attention. HLSA assistant professors Michel Boudreaux and Andrew Fenelon are the paper's co-authors.

“We found that non-citizens experienced better mental health compared to both native born and foreign born citizens, even after controlling for socioeconomic and demographic factors,” Fillion says.  

She explains that it is well known that immigrants tend to be healthier and live longer than the native born, even though they have lower socioeconomic status. “This is the first paper to show that this ‘immigrant paradox’ also holds true for adolescent mental health,” she says.

The researchers also found that the mental health advantage of foreign born adolescents deteriorates with longer time spent in the U.S. It is not exactly clear why this happens, Fillion says, but it could have to do with adopting American customs.

“There is a lot more to learn about this topic,” Fillion says. “Adolescence is an important period of development when mental illness often arises and can have devastating consequences to schooling and future labor market activity. Understanding why foreign born adolescents seem to be protected from mental illness may help us develop programs for other populations, including the native born and immigrants who have been living in the US for longer periods of time.”

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Immigration, citizenship, and the mental health of adolescents

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Nicole Filion , Michel Boudreaux, Andrew Fenelon