The anti-immigrant rhetoric championed by President Donald J. Trump has been taking a mental health toll on some immigrant families — and , mental health provider Claudia D’Allegri said.
In one case, a teenager demanded to be emancipated from their parents who are undocumented, using derogatory terms to refer to the parents.
“The rhetoric that we hear in the news was being repeated,” D’Allegri said. “This is a new behavior, it isn’t something the child had expressed before, and it is affecting the ability of the parents to even be a parent.”
Trump has pledged to crack down on immigration, issuing executive orders in his first month of office that target sanctuary cities and to expand Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also promised to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
The uncertainty has caused stress and anxiety for families, some of whom have not sought help from a counselor or therapist before.
While Seattle has offered legal assistance and passed a resolution aimed at helping undocumented immigrants during this time of uncertainty, D’Allegri and others at Sea Mar try to provide mental health help. Sea Mar started in 1978 to provide affordable healthcare to the Latino community in Seattle.
Families with children have started to experience separation anxiety, said D’Allegri, the vice president of Behavior Health Service at Sea Mar Community Health Centers.
“[They’re] worried that their parents might not be there when they come back,” D’Allegri said. “Saying they don’t want to go to school.”
Maximina Cortez-Garcia, a mother of four, says she’s been trying to cope with the sadness and stress.
“I was sad at first, but I am more or less assimilating now because really we live day by day now since we don’t really know whats going to happen to us as immigrants,” said Garcia, who also is a co-facilitator of Mujeres sin Fronteras, a workers group from Casa Latina.
A mother of four, Garcia says to help deal with her stress, she began taking yoga classes offered by Casa Latina.
Families also are starting to seek professional help concerning the behavior of their children, rising stress in adults and trauma associated with the political uncertainty.
Some of the parents are dealing with the anxiety about talking to their children about their status — some for the first time.
“There had never been a reason to talk about it,” D’Allegri said. “We are working with parents on how to talk to the kids… without creating fear and insecurity.”
Angelica De Anda, a licensed child and family clinical therapist at Sea Mar, said the stress can affect a person’s overall health and their day-to-day functioning.
“When stress gets to a point that it starts impacting functioning, like you’re not going to work, you’re not going to school, that’s concerning,” De Anda said.
De Anda, who is working towards becoming an ethnic minority mental health specialist with a focus on the Latino community, said others can help by being observant and compassionate to lessen the impact of stress.
She urges people not to discuss someone’s undocumented status unless they are willing to talk about it, and if they do, providing a listening ear or resources can go a long way.
“A lot of individuals don’t know where to talk, they don’t know who to trust,” De Anda said.
D’Allegri has helped facilitate group meetings at the request of entities that have recently noticed distress in the community such as the YMCA, Everett Community College, and churches. The group meetings are a form of therapy where immigrants talk through their feelings as a result of the new administration.
Up to 100 people have shown up to the undocumented-focused community meetings seeking help.
D’Allegri has planned separate group sessions for youth, children, and adults, where they will be able to speak freely about how they feel. The first is scheduled for May 7.
Providing a safe space to talk about one’s anxiety about one’s legal issues is a key factor in helping them cope and retain emotional stability during these times.
Another suggestion for coping is to continue their sense of routine and also find a way to relieve stress even if that just means going out on a walk, De Anda said.
“When stress hits that’s one of the first things to go, the sense of routine and obligations,” De Anda said.
Aside from providing counseling, Sea Mar connects the undocumented community to those who can provide legal help. Preparing for the worst and having a plan can lessen the impact of stress from political uncertainty.