Hugging, Drinking Tea, and Listening: Mental Health Needs of Turkish Immigrants

Article excerpt

Twelve Turkish immigrants were interviewed in a hypothesis-generating, qualitative investigation of their immigration experiences and mental health needs. Findings suggest high levels of psychological distress associated with homesickness, lack of English proficiency, problematic immigration status, difficulty adjusting to a new culture, and financial problems. Possible implications for clinicians are discussed.

Doce inmigrantes turcos fueron entrevistados en una investigacion cualitativa para generar hipotesis sobre sus experiencias con la inmigracion y sus necesidades en salud mental. Los hallazgos indican niveles altos de angustia psicologica asociada con la afioranza del hogar, la falta de dominio del ingles, estatus de inmigracion problematico, dificultades para ajustarse a una nueva cultura y problemas economicos. Se discuten posibles implicaciones para los profesionales clinicos.


Although some studies have suggested that foreign-born immigrants have better mental health than do people born in the United States (Breslau et al., 2007; Escobar, 1998; Miranda, Siddique, Belin, & Kohn-Wood 2005), other studies have shown higher rates of psychopathology among immigrants, including depression (Finch, Kolody, & Vega, 2000; Laban, Gernaat, Komproe, Schreuders, & De Jong, 2004; Levecque, Lodewyckx, & Vranken, 2007; Momartin, Silove, Manicavasagar, & Steel, 2004; Wilmoth & Chen, 2003), suicidal ideation (Ponizovsky, Ritsner, & Modal, 1999), posttraumatic stress (Momartin et al., 2004), anxiety (Hovey & Magana, 2002; Laban et al., 2004; Levecque et al., 2007), psychosis (Cantor-Graae, Zolkowska, & McNeil, 2005; Grisaru, Irvin, & Kaplan, 2003; Smith et al., 2006), somatoform disorders (Laban et al., 2004), and learning difficulties (Rousseau, Drapeau, & Corin, 1996). Investigators have focused on risk factors associated with migration and acculturation as predictors of the mental health of immigrants.

Stressful experiences before and after migration, including war, exile, life-threatening experiences, and loss of family members and friends through death or separation, have been associated with the higher prevalence of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder among immigrants and refugees (Momartin et al., 2004). After immigrants settle in a new country, low socioeconomic status (Levecque et al., 2007), discrimination and racism, lack of English proficiency, and minimal acculturation contribute to high rates of depression and anxiety (Finch et al., 2000). Other stressors include feeling caught between one's old and new cultures; fear of losing one's traditions, values, and customs; severed attachments with family and friends; feelings of alienation from the new culture; financial problems; and lack of social support--all of which diminish self-esteem and compromise coping mechanisms (Hovey & Magana, 2002).

Despite high rates of psychopathology, immigrants reportedly tend to underutilize mental health services (Chen & Kazanjian, 2005; Kirmayer et al., 2007; Tabora & Flaskerud, 1997; Whitley, Kirmayer, & Groleau, 2006). Inadequate language proficiency, insufficient acculturation, stigma associated with mental illness, and lack of culturally competent services (Tabora & Flaskerud, 1997), as well as preference for nontraditional and nonmedical approaches to emotional problems and previous negative experiences with physicians, were related to immigrants' low levels of seeking professional help (Whitley et al., 2006).

turkish immigrants and cultural background

The exact number of Turkish immigrants living in the United States is not known. Between 1820 and 2000, it has been reported that 484,911 Turkish people officially immigrated to the United States (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2007). The 2000 U.S. Census showed that 117,575 people identified themselves as Turkish (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). …