A Closer Look at Contributors to Stress for Latinos
Gabriel R. Sanchez, PhD, is an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico (UNM), executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at UNM, and director of research for Latino Decisions. Yajaira Johnson-Esparza is a PhD Candidate in the UNM department of psychology and an RWJF Fellow at the University.
A recent survey conducted by RWJF, NPR, and the Harvard School of Public Health focused our attention on the burdens that stress poses for Americans. We want to focus our attention in this blog post on factors that may be leading to stress among the Latino population. Although the experience of stress is very common, the experience and burden of stress is not uniform across people in the United States.
One of the main findings that emerged from the recent RWJF/NPR/Harvard survey was the strong role of health problems in stress in the United States, with 27 percent of respondents noting that illness or disease was a major source of stress over the past year. In addition to the direct impact of being sick, the financial burdens associated with needing medical care can generate a lot of stress. We have found support for this finding in some of our own work at the UNM RWJF Center for Health Policy. For example, a recent survey we helped produce found that 28 percent of Latino adults indicated that because of medical bills, they have been unable to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, or heat, with 40 percent indicating they have had trouble paying their other bills. The financial stress associated with illness can have a devastating impact on Latinos.
Latinos in the United States also face unique stressors from other Americans due to their language use, nativity, and experiences with discrimination. Being followed in a store, being denied employment or housing, and being told that you do not speak English well can all lead to stress for Latinos.
More specifically, the current political climate surrounding immigration politics and policy has led to an increase in discrimination directed toward Latinos, and consequently stress levels. Our Center has been tracking immigration laws passed at the state level over time; we have found a significant increase in passage of punitive laws during the economic recession, with more than 200 immigration laws being passed in 2009 alone. A June 2011 impreMedia/Latino Decisions (LD) poll reveals that Latino voters are conscious of this tense landscape, as 76 percent of respondents believe that an anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant environment exists today.
In addition to anti-immigrant sentiment, stress also exists around fear of deportation and finding safe employment for Latino immigrants and mixed-status families. Immigrants may experience stress at the thought of leaving their home either for work or chores due to fear of being deported, and the children of immigrants are experiencing increased stress due to the fear that their parents will be detained or deported. A research team at our Center is currently developing a survey to be fielded later this summer specifically focused on identifying how the current immigration-driven political climate is impacting the relationship between discrimination and health for Latinos in the United States.
Addressing Latino stress is important and necessary, as many health problems are directly related to stress. As one of the largest and youngest racial/ethnic minority groups, it is crucial that we focus more attention on stressors that can impact the overall health of the Latino population.
This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.