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Respuestas 2021: COVID’s Hidden Toll on the Immigrant Community is its Mental Health Impact

Immigrant families across the city say that dealing with health, financial, and logistical challenges arising from COVID leaves them with no time to care for their mental health—a challenge as dangerous as any other, and one that demands more attention and support.

By Sarah Cartagena, Senior Policy Analyst; and Louisa Silverman, Immigration & Housing Intern

Para leer este artículo de La Raza en español, haga clic aquí.

COVID-19 has forced many immigrant families to face several challenges at once. In addition to dealing with health concerns, financial concerns, the grief of loss, and the difficulties of virtual work and education, these challenges and others take a serious toll on immigrants’ mental health as well. Local immigrant community members say that the stigma surrounding mental health challenges often prevents them from voicing their hardships.

“It’s hard to talk about the problems you are experiencing,” said one local immigrant community member who participated in a series of community discussions about COVID’s broader impact on immigrants, which were held by the Latino Policy Forum. “But we live with a lot of fear.” 

During the community discussions, many participants shared a common difficulty during the pandemic: the debilitating weight that their financial concerns had on their mental health, sleep, and outlook on life. Various individuals shared stories of being laid off, getting reduced hours, or losing their job altogether. They expressed how scared and nervous they were that they would not be able to provide for their families. Maria Velazquez, Executive Director of Telpochcalli Community Education Project (Tcep), said that community members frequently visit Tcep with these concerns. 

Others shared how difficult it was to be physically apart from family members who are in other countries battling the pandemic on their own. “We’ve lost many family members. None of us expected the magnitude of this pandemic,” one participant said. 

When juggling so many needs and responsibilities, paying for rent and other basic necessities often comes before mental health expenses. This is a choice that families should not have to make. 

Other factors prevent immigrant families from utilizing mental health services as well. According to Michelle Ramirez of Family-Focus Cicero, “waitlists for mental health support are long, and few mental health providers speak Spanish.” Lack of information on accessible mental health counseling can also be a barrier that prevents individuals from seeking help.  

One participant described how their child’s school addressed these barriers by offering free mental health support services for both the students and the parents. Community members expressed gratitude for such essential services, especially those that are sensitive to cultural, linguistic, and cognitive diversity. Low-cost or free mental health and therapeutic services for all students will be especially necessary as the transition back to in-person classes brings a slew of social anxieties and other challenges.

In addition to increased funding for professional mental health support, a suggestion from Latina immigrant community members is to help fund network support by training Latina immigrants on mental health so they can form groups within their communities to offer each other support. 

Community well-being should be at the forefront of pandemic recovery. As we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, mental health care will continue to be a critical piece of families’ recovery from this pandemic, which has already taken such an emotional toll on immigrant families.

For more information and resources on immigrant mental health, please visit the Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health (CIMH) website: www.ourcimh.org.


The Latino Policy Forum thanks its partners who helped lead these community discussions and provided such valuable information: Centro de Informacion, Family-Focus Nuestra Familia Cicero, Harris Community Action, Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Spanish Community Center, and Telpochcalli Community Education Project.

“Respuestas 2021” is a series of weekly articles for La Raza about the needs of the Latino and immigrant community arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, based on community discussions conducted by the Latino Policy Forum. The next topic will be the need for increased financial assistance for medical care.