A move across the world to the wealthiest nations in the West promises security and access to an abundance of resources. This will prompt many people hoping for a better life for themselves and others to make the move, but it is not a smooth transition. There will be both financial and social difficulties, but how does this affect overall mental health? The Western world is populated with minority groups, and many are new immigrants who seek out more opportunities and better quality of life. Older immigrants tend to make the decision to move because of these benefits. These older immigrants have raised generations in a new country, tirelessly working for the sake of providing for their families.
Studies have shown that people in older age groups tend to have a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety. Symptoms of depression are found in 10-15% of the older immigrant population whereas symptoms of anxiety range from 15-52% of the population (Baldwin, 2008). Older immigrants usually display these types of symptoms because it is difficult to adjust or socialize at an older age (Jang, 2020).
Older, Chinese immigrants are a population that is growing exponentially in much of the Western world. In addition, it was found that depression is most common in Chinese immigrants, surpassing the older population by 20-30% (Lin, 2015). A study done by Briony Dow et al. targeted this specific topic. The two major language groups in China, Mandarin, and Cantonese, were separated when studied because of geographical and cultural differences observed. People who spoke Mandarin likely immigrated from mainland China and other East Asian countries, usually had a higher education background, and had poorer English proficiency. People who spoke Cantonese likely immigrated from southern China and Southeast Asian countries were more likely to immigrate at later stages in life and be financially dependent. Lower-quality socioeconomic factors and differences in experiences are likely to be a cause of the onset of depression and anxiety. These cultural and situational differences were considered in their study because of the impact they would have on the mental health of the affected individuals.
Studies done by Heejung Jang cite that greater familial relationships may play an integral role in effectively alleviating these symptoms. As opposed to younger immigrants who move for educational or professional opportunities, older immigrants often move in order to take on familial duties. When older immigrants assume the role of a grandparent, they may feel more fulfilled and responsible, resulting in lower stress levels and overall benefits to their well-being. Adversely, if they take on an excess of responsibility, it may induce stress. Balance in generational relationships is important in mediating mental health.
Immigration is not a process that will always be beneficial, especially in older generations where it may be more difficult to adjust to a new place after having been in one area for much of their lifetime. Learning about situational factors that may affect elders around us, especially in minority groups, can allow us to empathize with them.
Dow, B., Lin, X., Pachana, N., Bryant, C., LoGiudice, D., M.Y. Goh, A., & Haralambous, B. (2018). Reliability, concurrent validity, and cultural adaptation of the Geriatric Depression Scale and the Geriatric Anxiety Inventory for detecting depression and anxiety symptoms among older Chinese immigrants: An Australian study. International Psychogeriatrics, 30(5), 735-748. doi:10.1017/S1041610217002332
Heejung Jang, PhD, Natasha V Pilkauskas, PhD, Fenyan Tang, PhD, Age at Immigration and Depression: The Mediating Role of Contemporary Relationships With Adult Children Among Older Immigrants, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 77(2), 413–423, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbaa209
Lin, X., Haralambous, B., Pachana, N. A., Bryant, C., LoGiudice, D., Goh, A., and Dow, B. (2016) Screening for depression and anxiety among older Chinese immigrants living in Western countries: The use of the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) and the Geriatric Anxiety Inventory (GAI). Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, 8: 32– 43. doi: 10.1111/appy.12191.