Has the immigration ban caused an increase in mental health services?

Last week, graduate students at the University of Southern California petitioned the university for enhanced mental health services. They requested these services for “Muslim, refugee, immigrant, international and other marginalized student groups” in response to the president’s immigration ban and other executive orders that affect the student population. Is this a reasonable ask? In a word, yes.

The primary motive behind the immigration ban and the emotion it evokes are the same: fear — fear of being deported; fear of being permanently separated from family members; fear of going back to a country where the threat of persecution and even death are present. And that fear has a huge impact on mental health.

Fear is the body’s response to uncertainty and adversity. It has well-known physical components like sweating, rapid heartbeat, and nausea. Longer term effects of fear include stress, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. Research indicates up to 20% of women (8% of men) who experience a traumatic event — like the enacting of the immigration ban — are likely to develop serious emotional problems. This could mean an increase in the number of students seeking psychological services for relief.

People exposed to fear on a long-term basis can develop anxiety, a lingering feeling of fear, dread and worry about an unknown event in the future. Anxiety is a serious condition, the major treatment for which involves confronting your fears through psychotherapy. In the case of immigrants in this country, the fear will only be eliminated by removing the ban. Though there are legal and legislative actions being taken to overturn the ban, the outcome of these activities remains uncertain, and that uncertainty is an additional source of stress. While mental health support cannot affect the president’s executive order, it can provide tools to help minimize some of the effects of anxiety.

Though some people reject the term, PTSD can also be used to describe the mental and emotional issues taking place in the immigrant community. PTSD is caused by exposure to a life-threatening event. It can also be triggered by a sustained traumatic event.

Many immigrants and refugees came to the United States to flee a despotic government or other threat. Those situations in immigrants’ home countries could have themselves caused the symptoms of PTSD. Compounded now with the real threat of returning home to the same tragic activities, these symptoms could be more intense.

On the USC campus, an increase in PTSD and associated conditions from the affected student population could certainly cause an increase in demand for therapy and other mental health services on campus.

With daily executive orders and countless bills being raised in Congress, this administration proves to be a source of uncertainty and change. Many people are affected by the changes in policy made by the President, and these changes will have a negative impact on some citizens. It is important to remember that our mental health can be impacted by political developments and that we must take proactive steps to maintain it.