Vietnamese Immigrant and Refugee Women's Mental Health: An Examination of Age of Arrival, Length of Stay, Income, and English Language Proficiency

By Brown, Chris; Schale, Codi L. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Vietnamese Immigrant and Refugee Women's Mental Health: An Examination of Age of Arrival, Length of Stay, Income, and English Language Proficiency


Brown, Chris, Schale, Codi L., Nilsson, Johanna E., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


Vietnamese immigrant and refugee women (N = 83) were surveyed regarding their mental health, English language proficiency, age of arrival, length of stay, and income. English language proficiency and age of arrival correlated with reduced symptomatology. Moreover, English language proficiency was the sole predictor of somatic distress.

Se realizo una encuesta a un grupo de mujeres inmigrantes y refugiadas vietnamitas (N = 83) con respecto a su salud mental, nivel de ingles, edad de llegada, tiempo de estancia y nivel de ingresos. Su nivel de ingles y la edad de Ilegada mostraron correlacion con una sintomatologia reducida. Ademas, el nivel de conocimiento de ingles fue el unico elemento capaz de predecir el malestar somatico.

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Refugee individuals have been defined as "persons who are unable or unwilling to return to their country of nationality because of persecution or well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion" (Vu, 1990, p. 234). The United States is known for providing safe haven to those fleeing oppression and daunting circumstances. Refugees constitute 10% of annual immigration to the United States and are a distinct component of the U.S. foreign-born population (Singer & Wilson, 2007). The number of Vietnamese immigrants in the United States quintupled from 1980 (231,120) to 2006 (1.1 million), making them the fifth largest immigrant group in the United States (Terrazas, 2008). The number of Southeast Asians immigrating to English-speaking countries is increasing, leading to greater interest in their mental health and cultural adjustment experiences (Salant & Lauderdale, 2003). Scholars have stated that the future of American society is largely contingent on the adaptation of immigrant families (Pumariega, Rothe, & Pumariega, 2005).

In reporting on the literature that has examined the associations among mental health, English language proficiency, age of arrival, and length of stay for immigrant and refugee samples, we have drawn from the acculturation literature to describe these associations. Given that English language proficiency, age of arrival, and length of stay have all been implicated as indicators of acculturation (Kuo & Roysircar, 2004; Sodowsky & Plake, 1991), we have chosen to consider the role of these limited, but important, factors in understanding the mental health of Vietnamese immigrant and refugee women.

Acculturation involves the "process of adopting the cultural traits or social patterns of another group" (Stein, 1975, p. 10). Age is a contributor to acculturation speed and responsiveness, and those who move to the United States at younger ages adopt American values and behaviors more easily than those moving at later life stages (Matsuoka, 1990). Younger refugees also have an advantage over their older counterparts in that they more readily learn to write and speak English. Those arriving in the United States at an early developmental stage (i.e., when language and culture are at a formative period) may experience psychosocial adjustment that is smoother than that experienced by those arriving during a later developmental period who may feel the pressure of rapid adaptation and language acquisition (Chung, Bemak, & Wong, 2000).

Researchers have supported the use of English language proficiency and length of stay to assess levels of acculturation (Sodowsky, Lai, & Plake, 1991). Phan and Silove (1997) reported that English language proficiency and length of stay influenced psychological distress in Vietnamese American families. Researchers have found similar results in samples of Asian international students (Poyrazli, Kavanaugh, Baker, & A1-Timimi, 2004) and Asian Indian immigrants (Mehta, 1998).

Scholars have also considered the importance of income when attempting to understand the mental health and cultural adjustment of immigrant and refugee families. …

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