Discrimination, Trauma, and Psychological Distress among Central American Immigrants
The present-day sociopolitical climate, with its noxious anti-immigrant sentiment and policies, has increased the emotional stress experienced by immigrant-origin populations. This dissertation presents findings from research that explored the relationship between race-and ethnicity-based discrimination, exposure to trauma, and psychological distress among a sample of Central American–origin immigrants and refugees in the United States. Informed by socio-ecological and contemporary acculturation theory, this research extended the traumatic stress and migration literature by examining how a global sense of social connectedness, as well as a sense of belonging to one’s ethnic community or the mainstream community, may mitigate or exacerbate the influence of discrimination and trauma on mental health. In addition, this research explored the potential moderating role of immigrant generation and documentation status. Participants (N=89) between 18 and 70 years of age completed surveys both online (N=28) and in person (N=61). Survey instruments included a demographic questionnaire, the Perceived Racism Scale for Latinos (PRSL), the Trauma History Questionnaire (THQ), the Social Connectedness Scale – Revised (SCS-R), the Social Connectedness in Mainstream (SCMN) and the Social Connectedness in the Ethnic Community (SCETH) scales, as well as measures to assess for symptoms of depression (PHQ-9), anxiety (GAD-7), posttraumatic stress (PCL-C), and somatization (SSS-8). Ordinary least-squares regression analyses revealed that discrimination and exposure to trauma significantly predicted psychological distress. Higher levels of social connectedness predicted lower levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Mainstream social connectedness was found to moderate the association between exposure to trauma and PTSD such that for individuals with low levels of SCMN, posttraumatic stress was consistently relatively high regardless of the degree of trauma exposure. For those individuals with high SCMN, posttraumatic stress symptoms were low when trauma exposure was low. However, all individuals regardless of their sense of mainstream belonging experienced high PTSD when trauma exposure was high. In addition, a lower sense of mainstream belonging augmented the strength of the association between discrimination on depression, whereas a stronger sense of mainstream belonging reduced the strength of this relation. Specifically, individuals with low SCMN reported higher depressive symptoms with increasing perceived discrimination, while individuals with high SCMN reported similar levels of depression even at increasing levels of discrimination. Analyses did not support moderation effects for ethnic social connectedness, immigrant generation and documentation status. The study’s strengths and limitations as well as its significance for future research and practice are discussed. Implications highlight the multifaceted and dynamic nature of belongingness in the context of discrimination and trauma, and speak to the importance of culturally responsive and multi-systemic interventions.