Mental health of immigrant students

The immigrant household comes with a different set of expectations and tolls on mental health

Every persons situation is very different. I moved here when I was so young and my parents and I have had all this time to adjust to here and find a balance between here and India. I know people who have moved here more recently who havent found that balance yet.- Lahari Hosur

“Every person’s situation is very different. I moved here when I was so young and my parents and I have had all this time to adjust to here and find a balance between here and India. I know people who have moved here more recently who haven’t found that balance yet.”- Lahari Hosur

Mariam Jabri, Staff Writer and Section Editor

The immigrant background is shared by those who are immigrants or have parents that are immigrants. Students with this background may have parents that immigrated to the U.S for college or a work opportunity. Oftentimes, in doing so they make sacrifices like leaving family behind in their home country. For some, those sacrifices gave students access to better education, job opportunities, technology, and other resources that may not have been offered elsewhere. From academics to relationship with their parents, four students with an immigrant background reported a variety of ways their upbringing impacted them. However, what these students had in common is having to navigate life as a student in the U.S with two different sets of cultures, standards, and expectations—sometimes, with their mental health taking a backseat.  

An immigrant household is just like any other, but oftentimes standards and expectations do differ from your typical American household. Junior Lahari Hosur immigrated to the U.S from South India when she was 2 years old, after her father got a job in the states. “They raised me as if I was growing up in India,” Hosur said. She did not find it a bad thing, but explained it meant growing up with a different culture and set of expectations than the typical American student. “All my parents really want for me is to make them proud…and they do have a lot of expectations for me because they assume high school here is like high school in India,” Hosur said. “It definitely comes with a lot of stress.” 

Hosur is not the only one who experiences stress at home. Junior Akshaya Somasundaram also immigrated here from South India, first when she was a toddler. Then she went back to India and immigrated here again in the 4th grade. She and her family have been here ever since.

“I came out as bi, and my parents don’t know that obviously. So trying to hide that part of me is kind of stressful at times,” Somasundaram said. (She added that she was comfortable with this information being written.)

She has been struggling with her identity and connecting with her cultural roots: “This year, I just realized, I’ve been in America more than I’ve been in India. So what am I?” Somasundaram continued, “I’m also not the perfect Indian daughter, so I’ve definitely realized I will not be what my parents expect me to be. I’m more inclined towards the culture here.” 

Household rules for Somasundaram was another thing she had to navigate at home along with her culture and identity: “I’m from a very traditionally Indian family. I am not allowed to go out of the house, I have to dress a lot more conservative…can’t go past a certain time.” She also wasn’t allowed a phone until she was 16. Even though household rules for Somasundaram may be unusual compared to most American households, life at home is still like most. “On the good days, we’ll be teasing and joking around,” Somasundaram said. 

Other students share a similar at home experience to Somasundaram. “They were more strict with me about hanging out with people when they’re not there…no sleepovers at all,” one student said when describing the difference between her home life and your typical American household. This student, who wished to not be identified and instead will use the nickname Chai, was also born in the U.S. Chai’s parents immigrated here from Shanghai, China due to job struggles.

Just like Hosur, Chai’s parents also have some expectations set. “Their only expectations for me are to do well in school, like they really care about how I do on the ACT and SAT,” she said. With those expectations came her parents’ support. “I feel like I owe them and I need to make them proud for all their sacrifices and hard work to get me to this point,” Chai concluded. 

For some immigrant students, the expectations set at home are what drives them at school. “There’s no room for failure,” says Angel, who also only felt comfortable sharing a nickname. Angel’s parents immigrated here from Kuwait and Jordan. Her father came here for college and in hopes of better work opportunities. Schoolwork is her main priority: “If I do badly on a test, I usually have a bad breakdown.” 

But grades aren’t the only thing this student deals with at school: “I think my main issue is fitting in with people here.” School was never the easiest for Angel when it came to making friends, because of the difference in her Jordanian culture and the American one at school. Her parents tried to understand how she felt, but no one really did: “My dad told me ‘you don’t really need friends, just go to school and pay attention to your studies,’” she said. “After he told me that, I had, like, a dead feeling.” That was all back in 6th grade, and she now has learned to cope with being alone, and made friends eventually. 

Another student who understands the difficult reality of school with an immigrant background is Somasundaram. She’s expected to have straight A’s and no distractions. Course selection is also limited for her at school. “I have to prepare for the situation that I might leave for India, and since STEM courses are the only ones offered there, I had to give up a lot of the courses that I liked.” 

Her academic restrictions don’t stop there: “If you’re an immigrant with a visa, the school does not have a lot of opportunities,” Somasundaram said, “I can’t apply for the volunteer service award, or scholarships, or even the PSAT scholarship.” She would need to have high SAT and ACT scores to get any sort of aid. 

For these students, it’s clear dealing with life at both home and school can be difficult to manage and the reason for changes in their mental health. “I kind of had a breakdown in ninth grade summer. I had bad migraines every single day because of the stress of studying for the ACT,” Chai said, who started studying early on to meet her parents’ expectations. 

“It’s fine to cry to let out stress sometimes, but not every single time you do badly on a test. I feel like I just overstress a lot of the time,” Angel mentioned. She explains her struggles with breaking down every time she takes a test. 

School is definitely not helping with Somasundaram either, as she mentioned, “I’m taking two AP classes in the same quarter. So sometimes the tests overlap and I’ll be up all night studying,” which Somasundaram says isn’t good for her mental health. Each of these students have dealt with or still deal with the effects of juggling both home and school, and are learning to cope with their mental health struggles the best they can.

“I know that I can go to my parents for help, they’re very helpful and understanding,” Hosur said, explaining how she is comfortable going to her parents for support if her mental health ever took a turn for the worse. 

Chai has her own ways of handling her mental health: “I just watch tv and forget about everything for a period of time.” 

Angel also has a preferred method of dealing with her mental health, like working out. It was something she enjoyed doing and regrets not having time for.

For Somasundaram, she is not as open about her mental health with her parents as she’d like to be. Mental health is overlooked and not taken seriously in her household, as it can be for a few immigrant households, so she looks elsewhere if she needs the support. “I managed to build a support system with my friends, where we’re all in the same boat,” says Somasundaram. 

“Every person’s situation is very different. I moved here when I was so young and my parents and I have had all this time to kind of adjust to here and find a balance between here and India,” Hosur said, “I know people who have moved here more recently who haven’t found that balance yet.” 

Each student mentioned that even though mental health isn’t a topic discussed in some of their households or viewed with as much importance in others, they know they can still count on their parents for support.