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Parental immigrant status and adolescent mental health in the United States: do racial/ethnic differences exist?



Aims:  To examine the relationship between mental health problems and parental immigrant status in a representative sample of US adolescents aged 12–17.

Method:  We analyzed the US 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) restricted to 32,849 adolescents aged 12–17. Parents or guardians in random-digit-dial sampled households were interviewed by telephone from April 2007 through July 2008 about one of their children, selected at random. Five mental health measures were used: prior medical diagnoses of (a) depression, (b) anxiety, and (c) behavioral problems; parental reports of the adolescent (d) feeling inferior/worthless, and (e) episodes of being withdrawal from others. Logistic regression models were employed to examine the relationship between mental health problems and parental immigrant status.

Results:  Overall, 19.4% of adolescents had at least one immigrant parent. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, all adolescents with immigrant parents have decreased odds of behavioral problems (OR 0.43, < .000), but no significant differences in the odds of depression, anxiety, worthlessness, and withdrawal compared to adolescents with US-born parents. Similarly, White, Black, and Hispanic adolescents with immigrant parents had decreased odds of behavioral problems (OR 0.35, < .000; OR 0.31, < .01; and OR 0.24, < .05, respectively) compared to their counterparts with US-born parents.

Conclusion:  Evaluation of psychological and mental health problems among adolescents in the United States should take parental immigrant status and other sociodemographic factors into account.

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