• December 9th, 2021
  • Thursday, 10:48:02 AM

Login Subscribe Now   

Immigrants and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


For centuries, psychologists have written about how fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success and fear in general as determinants of behavior that if not addressed can lead to other mental health problems leading to severe forms of mental incapacitation.  The newest research in mental health and immigrants reveals some startling data that can be tied into the concept of fear. Immigrant children whose parents are undocumented suffer from deep emotional distress as their imaginations lead them into the dark corridors of their minds once they are left at the front doors of their schools. The fear of abandonment seeps into the consciousness and strikes even more fear into their hearts.  Think about the fear a child would feel wondering if parents are going to be at home to greet them when they return home from school or if one did not show up to pick them up. Think about children whose parents have been detained, carted off to detention centers, jailed and deported.  Think about how it would feel believing that you may never see your loved ones again. Trauma becomes real when children feel powerless about their lives. The pain associated with real or imagined fear is followed by insecurity that can be overwhelming for children. Further analysis of the data informs us that many immigrant children are experiencing severe forms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Watching children suffer is disturbing. Symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) appear that if not treated properly will only cause further mental and emotional deterioration.

I treated Viet Nam Veterans suffering from this malady in my stint as a healer in the community mental health system. Psychological trauma is devastating and can be traced to the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience seems unsurmountable. This can be emotionally increased if the individual feels a threat to life, bodily integrity or sanity. PTSD is real and can be exacerbated by many stressors that ignite the 5 senses; sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. At any given time, when the organism feels threatened or attacked the five senses are activated and symptoms of PTSD occur. It was not a pleasant sight to observe veterans tormented by their war experiences slowly sink into agonizing forms of stress, anxiety, depression and for many ultimately death by suicide.

Current immigration policies in American society are the cause of this collective misfortune. According to the most recent data, “roughly one in four American children younger than 18 live in immigrant families and over 4 million U.S.-citizen children have at least one undocumented child.” Inhumane policies do not discriminate between blended families whose children can be both citizens and non-citizens. Children designated in both categories suffer the same fate, an inability to function properly.

Adults are not immune from experiencing symptoms of PTSD.  Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life but also situations that leaves a person feeling overwhelmed can be traumatic even if doesn’t involve physical harm. The more you believe you are endangered, the more traumatized you will be. The bottom line is that you feel a sense of helplessness. Severe forms of PTSD involve a person’s inability to cope and leaves that person fearing death, annihilation, mutilation, or psychosis. Other literature informs us that immigrants in general also suffer from trauma when entering a new society, culture shock, and migration psychosis, loss of family, grief and acculturation.  What about issues of violence while trekking into American society? Read Luis Alberto Urrea’s, “Devil’s Highway” for an astonishing tale about immigrants caught in attitudinal warfare that ends up in starvation for some, crushing thirst, and for some death while crossing the Sonoran Desert as vigilantes’ cause havoc with their lives.

To dehumanize children, viewing them as less than human and thus not deserving of moral consideration, is a travesty. Children often become the victims of adult’s power struggles, unwillingness to communicate and pointblank racism. It can be a set up for long term failure as children are unable to concentrate in school settings, obsessed about mama and papa’s status, which leads to failure in the classroom and eventual gravitation towards poverty. The reality is that we are part of a shared human community. When protracted conflict strains relationships and results in the mistreatment of children, a society has failed its statutory commitment to its people. It only leads parties to feelings of intense hatred and alienation among conflicting parties. The more severe the conflict, the more the psychological distance between groups will widen.  Eventually, this can result in more exclusion. Those excluded are typically viewed as inferior, evil, or criminal.

A society is usually judged by how it treats and invests in its children.  At a time when children are the victims of senseless terror attacks and merciless killings, Americans should stand and prevent further brutalization against children who have committed no crimes, not broken any laws but are simply the scapegoats for adults’ unwillingness to resolve this broken immigration system.

Ramón Del Castillo, Ph.D. is an Independent Journalist. ©June 5, 2017 Ramón Del Castillo.