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Aims: This study aimed to make a comparison of the mental health status between Japanese-Brazilian children in Japan and in Brazil.
Methods: A total of 331 Japanese-Brazilian children at five Brazilian schools in Japan (Japanese Group), and 172 Japanese-Brazilian children at one private school in São Paulo (Brazilian Group) were enrolled in statistical analyses. The Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire was applied for parents, teachers, and students who were aged over 11 years old.
Results: The total comparison of the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire scores between the two groups demonstrated that all the average symptom scores except prosocial behavior were significantly higher in the Japanese Group by parent report. By teacher report, the average symptom scores of conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems and total difficulties were significantly higher in the Japanese Group, while that of the prosocial behavior was significantly higher in the Brazilian Group. Dividing parent and teacher reports into two age ranges, similar results to the total comparison were seen in the parent report in the age range of 4–10-year-olds and both parent and teacher reports in that of 11–16-year-olds, while in the teacher report for 4–10-year-olds, only conduct problems and total difficulties score showed significantly higher average scores in the Japanese Group. By self-report, the average symptom scores of emotional symptoms, peer problems and total difficulties score were significantly higher in the Japanese Group.
Conclusion: The results indicate poorer mental health status in the Japanese Group than the Brazilian Group, and suggest the adverse circumstances of the former group both at their homes and schools.
JAPANESE-BRAZILIANS IN JAPAN have a very unique history as migrants. Their parents or grandparents migrated from Japan to Brazil, hoping to succeed in the frontier of vast plains, while they have returned back to their ancestral country with the purpose of earning a considerable amount of money as industrial workers. Japanese emigration to Brazil began in 1908, and the emigrants worked hard and endured great difficulty in order to adapt to Brazilian society.1 Their efforts made their descendants quite prominent in academic fields, the judicial world, and political circles in Brazil.1 However, since the economic crisis in Brazil in the 1980s, many of the descendants have decided to move to Japan in search of high-paying jobs.2 This trend has accelerated since the amendment of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition of Japan in 1990, which enables third-generation Japanese descendants and their spouses to stay in Japan without strict limitations on their work and period of stay.2 Consequently, in 2007, 316 967 Japanese-Brazilians resided in Japan.3 As their population grew, their children increased in Japan.2,4
Recently, several authors have carried out valuable research on the mental health of adult Japanese-Brazilians in Japan5–13 and have even made comparisons between Japan and Brazil.7,11 However, only a few studies focused on the mental health of Japanese-Brazilian children in Japan14,15 and none have made any comparisons between Japan and Brazil. Therefore, this study aimed to compare the mental health status of Japanese-Brazilian children in Japan whose family had needed to move to Japan with those in Brazil whose family had not.
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The Japanese Group was 51.4% male (170/331), with an average age of 8.8 years (standard deviation (SD) 2.9 years). By parent report, 93.4% of the Japanese Group (309/331) had at least one parent working as an industrial worker at factories in Japan. The Brazilian Group was 45.3% male (78/172), with an average age of 9.3 years (SD 2.8 years). Comparing the Brazilian Group with the Japanese Group, there was no significant difference in sex ratio or mean age.
Table 1 presents a total comparison of the SDQ scores by parent and teacher report between the Japanese Group and the Brazilian Group. By parent report, all the average symptom scores, except prosocial behavior, were significantly higher in the Japanese Group. By teacher report, the average symptom scores of conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems and total difficulties score were significantly higher in the Japanese Group, while that of prosocial behavior was significantly higher in the Brazilian Group.
Table 1. Mean symptom scores by parent and teacher report in 4–16-year-olds from the Japanese Group and the Brazilian Group
|Age 4–16 years||Mean (SD)|
|Japanese Group||Brazilian Group|
|Parent report||n = 331||n = 172|
| Emotion||2.7 (2.1)***||2.0 (1.6)|
| Conduct||1.6 (1.8)***||1.0 (1.2)|
| Hyperactivity||3.5 (2.6)***||2.6 (2.3)|
| Peer||1.5 (1.5)***||0.9 (1.3)|
| Prosocial||8.7 (1.6)||8.8 (1.4)|
| Total||9.3 (5.8)***||6.5 (4.4)|
|Teacher report||n = 331||n = 172|
| Emotion||1.9 (2.0)||1.8 (1.9)|
| Conduct||1.4 (1.9)***||0.7 (1.3)|
| Hyperactivity||2.9 (3.0)**||2.1 (2.8)|
| Peer||1.3 (1.8)**||0.8 (1.5)|
| Prosocial||8.1 (2.3)||8.8 (1.8)***|
| Total||7.6 (7.2)***||5.4 (5.8)|
In order to assess age effect, parent and teacher reports were divided into two age ranges: 4–10 years and 11–16 years. Across both age ranges, no significant difference was seen in sex ratio or mean age between the two groups.
Table 2 presents a comparison of the scores between the two groups in the age range of 4–10-year-olds. The parent report demonstrated similar results to those in Table 1; all the average symptom scores except prosocial behavior were significantly higher in the Japanese Group, whereas, by teacher report, only conduct problems and total difficulties score showed significantly higher average scores in the Japanese Group.
Table 2. Mean symptom scores by parent and teacher report in 4–10-year-olds from the Japanese Group and the Brazilian Group
|Age 4–10 years||Mean (SD)|
|Japanese Group||Brazilian Group|
|Parent report||n = 241||n = 117|
| Emotion||2.6 (2.0)**||2.0 (1.7)|
| Conduct||1.6 (1.8)***||1.0 (1.3)|
| Hyperactivity||3.6 (2.6)**||2.9 (2.4)|
| Peer||1.3 (1.5)**||0.8 (1.1)|
| Prosocial||8.7 (1.6)||8.7 (1.4)|
| Total||9.2 (5.8)***||6.7 (4.3)|
|Teacher report||n = 241||n = 117|
| Emotion||1.7 (1.8)||1.7 (1.9)|
| Conduct||1.3 (2.0)***||0.6 (1.4)|
| Hyperactivity||2.9 (3.0)||2.3 (3.0)|
| Peer||1.0 (1.7)||0.8 (1.5)|
| Prosocial||8.4 (2.2)||8.9 (1.7)|
| Total||7.0 (7.1)*||5.4 (6.0)|
Table 3 presents a comparison of the scores between the two groups in the age range of 11–16-year-olds by parent, teacher, and self-report. Both parent and teacher report demonstrated quite similar results to those in Table 1, with regard to significant differences. By self-report, the average symptom scores of emotional symptoms, peer problems and total difficulties score were significantly higher in the Japanese Group.
Table 3. Mean symptom scores by parent, teacher, and self-report in 11–16-year-olds from the Japanese Group and the Brazilian Group
|Age 11–16 years||Mean (SD)|
|Japanese Group||Brazilian Group|
|Parent report||n = 90||n = 55|
| Emotion||3.0 (2.2)**||2.0 (1.5)|
| Conduct||1.7 (2.0)**||1.0 (1.2)|
| Hyperactivity||3.3 (2.5)**||2.1 (2.1)|
| Peer||1.8 (1.6)**||0.9 (1.6)|
| Prosocial||8.5 (1.8)||8.8 (1.4)|
| Total||9.7 (6.0)***||6.0 (4.5)|
|Teacher report||n = 90||n = 55|
| Emotion||2.5 (2.2)||1.9 (1.8)|
| Conduct||1.6 (1.8)***||0.7 (1.3)|
| Hyperactivity||3.0 (3.0)**||1.8 (2.2)|
| Peer||2.1 (1.8)***||0.9 (1.6)|
| Prosocial||7.4 (2.5)||8.8 (1.8)***|
| Total||9.2 (7.1)***||5.3 (5.4)|
|Self-report||n = 73||n = 54|
| Emotion||3.8 (2.2)*||2.9 (2.2)|
| Conduct||2.4 (1.9)||2.1 (1.9)|
| Hyperactivity||4.0 (2.1)||3.3 (2.1)|
| Peer||2.3 (1.7)**||1.5 (1.3)|
| Prosocial||8.1 (1.7)||8.3 (1.5)|
| Total||12.5 (5.6)**||9.9 (5.3)|
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The results of all the comparisons between the two groups indicate poorer mental health status in the Japanese Group, because of the nature of the SDQ. Detailed consideration is focused on the subscales that are of greatest psychiatric interest, namely emotional symptoms, conduct problems and hyperactivity.
Initially, more emotional symptoms imply that the Japanese Group had more difficult circumstances that could be potential causes for emotional instability. Interestingly, the results showed significant differences by parent and self-report, while not by teacher report, across all age ranges. Does this mean that children at Brazilian schools in Japan were more stressed at their homes than at the schools? As Goodman pointed out in his study employing the SDQ in a large-scale community sample,23 it was easier to detect externalizing problems (conduct problems and hyperactivity) for teachers and internalizing problems (emotional symptoms) for parents. Therefore, it might be more suitable that ‘no significant difference’ was owing to the difficulties of rating the symptom by teacher, who had to take care of many children.
Second, more conduct problems also suggest the adverse circumstances of the Japanese Group, because children tend to express their unstable emotions by defiant and disagreeable behaviors.24
Third, even more hyperactivity symptoms could be explained by the circumstances, though the cause of hyperactivity disorders has been controversial and not yet elucidated.25 For instance, spending long hours in the small premises of Brazilian schools in Japan possibly made the restless behavior worse and stand out, and this might more seriously affect the children of the older age range according to the contrast between Tables 2 and 3.
Comparing the results of Tables 2 and 3, only the teacher report demonstrated age differences in several subscales in terms of significant differences between the two groups and all of these subscales showed more symptoms in the Japanese Group in the older age range (the lower score for prosocial behavior means more symptoms). This suggests that circumstances at Brazilian schools were more stressful for older children. Meanwhile, circumstances at their homes seemed to be with more distress in the Japanese Group regardless of the age range.
The self-report did not show significant difference in conduct problems and hyperactivity, which supposedly means that externalizing problems were difficult for children to rate by themselves.
Then, what were the adverse circumstances of the Japanese Group? According to a representative review article,26 many (early) studies state that migrant children are at increased risk of mental health problems, and predominantly give three reasons for this.
The first and by far the most often suggested reason is that the migration process causes stress, not only because migration entails extensive loss of family and friends, customs and surroundings, but also because migrants have to adapt to a new cultural environment. The children in the Japanese Group supposedly struggled with less cultural conflicts than Japanese-Brazilian children at Japanese public schools, because they were surrounded by Brazilian culture both at their schools and homes, as in their homeland. However, it was impossible even for them to avoid loss of their relatives and friends at the time of their leaving Brazil and to escape all the influence of Japanese culture, and very hard for Brazilian schools to provide them exactly the same culture as that in Brazil. Moreover, there were several differences between Brazilian schools in Japan and the private school in São Paulo in terms of school hours, organizing classes etc. Therefore, the migration process was considered to be one of the potential risk factors for their mental health.
The second reason is that migrant populations often take the minority position in their host countries as the bottom of the existing social hierarchy and such social positions may result in segregated residential, economic, social and psychological environments that have adverse effects on the mental health of immigrant children. This reason seems to be another factor for the adverse circumstances. Although Japanese-Brazilians are a privileged population as foreigners in Japan in terms of their visa condition, most of them have been isolated from Japanese local communities and incorporated into a low socioeconomic position in Japan as industrial workers at factories regardless of their academic and social background in Brazil.2,4 The difficulty of extricating themselves from the unpleasant position2 may well cause increased levels of mental health problems in their children.
The remaining reason is that the cultural background of particular migrant groups might contribute to the development of their children's mental health problems. However, it is beyond this study to assess the correlations between Brazilian culture and children's mental health problems, and this should be examined by further studies.
Thus, there is a possibility that the above three reasons are applicable to explaining the adverse circumstances that were presumably related to poorer mental health status in the Japanese Group. Further studies will be required to specify what the actual problems of their circumstances are and to assess the interactions of influential factors, such as socioeconomic characteristics of the parents, demographic traits of the children etc.
Unfortunately, there are a few major limitations to this study. One is the low participation rates, especially in the Brazilian Group, which might be due to the lack of concerns of parents about the mental health of their children, the cautiousness of parents against this research, and the reluctance of children to hand the questionnaires to their parents. Therefore, the results of this research do not necessarily represent the actual state of the populations.
Another is the lack of a detailed assessment of the psychopathology of each child. The SDQ is only the screening questionnaire; therefore diagnostic interviews with the participant parents were necessary in order to examine the actual status of the mental health of their children. However, this study could not conduct interviews owing to financial restrictions.
In addition, this study did not include Japanese-Brazilian children in Japan who attended Japanese public schools or who were absent from schooling, those remaining in Brazil whose parents moved to Japan, and children who came back to Brazil after long-term stays in Japan. These children should be in different circumstances and family situations that can variedly affect their mental health status from the children in this study. These matters are the tasks for further studies.
In conclusion, this is the first comparative study of the mental health status of Japanese-Brazilian children in Japan and Brazil. The results indicate poorer mental health status in the Japanese Group than the Brazilian Group, and suggest the adverse circumstances of the former Group both at their homes and schools, though further studies are necessary to verify them and to make thorough investigations.