Mental health of undocumented college students during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Journal Article

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Abstract The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused a surge in mental health problems across the United States, and some reports suggest a more severe impact for racial and ethnic minorities. The present study was conducted to gain a preliminary understanding of the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic specifically for dreamers, i.e., undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors. A population of about 150 dreamers currently enrolled at a public university in Delaware were invited to participate in an online survey. The survey contained questions about demographics, mental health, academics, immigration, COVID-19 infection, and unemployment, in addition to mental health screens for anxiety (GAD-7), depression (PHQ-9), and stress (PSS-10). In total, 109 dreamers completed the survey. We observed remarkably high clinical levels of anxiety and depression: 47% of the dreamers met the clinical cutoff for anxiety, 63% met the cutoff for depression, and 67% (2 in 3) met the cutoff for anxiety and/or depression. Rates of anxiety and depression in our sample were significantly higher than those recently reported for college students overall, suggesting that dreamers may be experiencing a more severe mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also found that pandemic-induced concerns about finances, COVID-19 infection, immigration, and unemployment (among other factors) were associated with greater anxiety, stress, and depression among the dreamers in our sample. The present findings are consistent with recent predictions by social scientists that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a disproportionately negative impact on the mental health of undocumented immigrants. Highlights Nearly half the dreamers (47%) met the clinical cutoff for anxiety, and 62% met the clinical cutoff for depression. 2 in 3 dreamers met the clinical cutoff for anxiety and/or depression. The percentage of dreamers meeting the cutoff for anxiety (47%) and depression (63%) were significantly higher than observed for college students overall during the pandemic (31% and 41%, respectively). The percentage of dreamers meeting the cutoff for anxiety was also significantly higher than previously observed for undocumented college students in a 2015 survey (35%). 60% of dreamers said the pandemic had a serious negative impact on their mental health, while 90% said the pandemic made them more anxious about finances. 90% of dreamers said the pandemic made it harder for them to concentrate on coursework, and 2 in 3 said pandemic-related anxiety hurt their academic performance. About 1 in 3 dreamers are “extremely worried” that the pandemic will prevent them from achieving their academic and professional goals. 76% of dreamers said the pandemic increased their fears of DACA termination. 10% of dreamers said they or an immediate family member suspected COVID-19 infection at some point but did not get tested for fear of detainment or deportation. About 1 in 5 dreamers said they would be “extremely worried” to seek treatment or have a family member seek treatment for COVID-19 due to fears of detainment or deportation. Dreamers who reported one or both parents lost their job due to the pandemic had significantly greater anxiety and depression scores and were more likely to meet clinical cutoffs for anxiety and depression.




Education, Health




Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology

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