Immigrant New Yorkers Face Unexpected Challenges to Health and Wellbeing

by April 1, 2016

  New York – A new report based on in-person interviews and surveys conducted by The New York Academy of Medicine provides insights into what immigrants—nearly 30 percent of the city’s population—in New York City see as barriers to improved wellbeing, as well as potential solutions to poor health status. In a discussion of what it takes to successfully transition between cultures, city residents representing more than 10 ethnic groups, from four boroughs, talk about their mental and physical health and wellbeing in a new report,“Immigrant Communities: Bridging Cultures for Better Health.”

“When it comes to health, lack of access to care is just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the barriers foreign-born residents encounter when attempting to prevent illness or maintain their mental health,” said Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, President of the Academy. “The report sheds light, using their own voices, on the seldom discussed challenges immigrants face, as well as potential solutions to bridge these divides.”

While research shows that immigrants often arrive here in better health than many American citizens, despite poverty or other issues, known as the Immigrant Health Paradox, their health declines the longer the stay in the United States (US). “Immigrant Communities: Bridging Cultures for Better Health” offers unique insights into the circumstances that contribute to this situation.

“Immigrant populations report an overwhelming combination of stressors that impact their health,” said Linda Weiss, PhD, lead author of the report. “Discrimination, combined with social isolation due to long work hours, possibly limited language skills, disruption of social ties, a lack of knowledge about health care options, and exhaustion were cited often. In addition, some immigrants may have experienced war and other traumas in their country of origin.”

Whether one of the more than 120,000 recent (since 2000) immigrants to New York from West Africa, more than 400,000 from Latin America, more than 150,000 from Southeast Asia, or the hundreds of thousands from all over the Caribbean—just a few of the communities represented in the report—immigrants share very similar issues in acclimating to life in New York, with an emphasis on psychological stress.

“The Arab population, because of the political problems in the Middle East, they feel unsafe. … They are scared all the time. They are afraid to go anywhere or speak out. … problems like mental health issues are on the rise in our community, because they can’t provide food for their children.” -Arab Community Health Advocate

The economic pressures and broken social bonds compound the difficulties of leaving ones’ culture behind were often discussed in the interviews that inform this report.

“Your life is full of stress, and this leads to depression. When will the papers come? When am I going to India? If I have kids, who will take care of them? Your elderly parents don’t want to come here. … You pay the babysitter ten dollars. When you go to work, you get ten dollars.” -Focus group participant, South Asian community

“Immigrant Communities: Bridging Cultures for Better Health,” the latest report in the series, “City Voices: New Yorkers on Health,”is the result of the Academy’s distinctive method of conducting research by working closely with community members and advocates to engage them and hear their concerns. The report, which includes personal narratives from immigrant New Yorkers, as well as observations from leading immigrant health advocates, is based on a Community Needs Assessment that included nearly 3,000 New Yorkers and was translated into 10 languages. To read the entire series, visit: www.nyam.org.

About the Academy

The New York Academy of Medicine advances solutions that promote the health and well-being of people in cities worldwide.

Established in 1847, The New York Academy of Medicine continues to address the health challenges facing New York City and the world’s rapidly growing urban populations. We accomplish this through our Institute for Urban Health, home of interdisciplinary research, evaluation, policy and program initiatives; our world class historical medical library and its public programming in history, the humanities, and the arts; and our Fellows program, a network of more than 2,000 experts elected by their peers from across the professions affecting health. Our current priorities are healthy aging, disease prevention, and eliminating health disparities. •

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