Unveiling Mental Health Challenges in First-Gen Immigrants: A Deep Dive

By Bryn Durocher

First generation immigrants

As a first-generation immigrant, it may feel uneasy at times. This uneasiness can stem from various sources, such as the effects of your move, your struggle to adjust to a new life, new cultures, isolation, or language differences. This article will explore what you may be facing, the effects of these challenges, and methods to cope.

Adjusting to a new culture is one challenge that most first-generation immigrants encounter.

The University of Texas at Austin (2023) describes living in a different culture as “both an exciting adventure and a challenging process.” You may become homesick, irritated, nervous, and have physical or sleep problems (The University of Texas at Austin, 2023). These are all reactions to “Culture Shock,” which is shock and other emotions experienced towards a new cultural environment (Simon Fraser University, 2023). 

Five stages of culture shock that you might experience, as mentioned by Simon Fraser University (2023), include:

1. The Honeymoon Stage – You are excited and hopeful about the new culture.

2. Irritability and Hostility – You feel overwhelmed, confused, and unimpressed with the new culture. You feel stressed and irritated. Perhaps you blame everything on the culture itself.

3. Gradual Adjustment – You feel more at peace and accepting of the new culture.

4. Adaptation of Biculturalism – Awareness and belonging to the new culture increase.

5. Re-entry Shock – When you return home, everything feels different and unexpected.

Coping strategies for culture shock, and your experiences in the new culture, include being mindful that culture is relative (The University of Texas at Austin, 2023). This means that different people perceive it differently and that the culture is not necessarily good or bad. Try to see it from a different perspective and consider how the cultural aspect benefits the country’s social environment overall (The University of Texas at Austin, 2023). It can also be helpful to be curious about your surroundings and see it as “a new adventure” (The University of Texas at Austin, 2023). This will help you to feel happy and hopeful again. Also, practice some self-talk: remind yourself that it is okay to feel anxious and that these feelings will not last forever (The University of Texas at Austin, 2023). Do not let yourself be afraid of your feelings or let them make you feel worse about your experience.

As mentioned, isolation is another common experience for a first-generation immigrant, especially for adults (Jang & Tang, 2022). Lack of social connection and belonging are vast parts of this isolation (Tonui et al., 2023). Language barriers, which we will discuss later, may also contribute to this loneliness for seniors (Tonui et al., 2023). Because of isolation, you may feel symptoms of social anxiety and depression (Tonui et al., 2023).

Yes, the experience of isolation can be frightening or depressing, but there are effective ways to cope. One strategy would be to stay in contact with family members (Jang & Tang, 2022). This makes you feel more connected and decreases depressive symptoms (Jang & Tang, 2022). Research shows that good family relationships positively influence mental health (Jang & Tang, 2022). You can also help family members, further decreasing isolation and depressive symptoms (Jang & Tang, 2022). Additionally, community programs and services are a great resource to help you get involved and feel less isolated; some even offer childcare services, giving you more time to participate (Tonui et al., 2023).

We have furthermore mentioned that language differences can pose a problem. Language differences can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, distress, and negative feelings (Montemitro et al., 2021). It can also be associated with several severe mental illnesses (Montemitro et al., 2021). This might be because stress increases when there is a language barrier (Ding & Hargraves, 2009). This researched information tells us that learning coping techniques and preventing future mental challenges is crucial. Coping may include using interpreters for healthcare appointments; they are ethical and undergo extensive training (Squires, 2021). One man, Saman Razavi (2021), thought of alternate methods for communication, including emails and written communication, and asked his colleagues to eliminate jargon (or slang). Never ask for accommodation in educational, healthcare, or social situations. You are not a burden.

When attempting coping strategies for immigration challenges, pay attention to what personally benefits you. Many techniques can help your mental health, along with strategies that address individual struggles. One method to boost mental health is attempting the 30-day mental health challenges. This challenge has become popular nowadays. They entail a series of activities you perform daily for 30 days that boost mental health. For example, here is a first-week schedule written by The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (2021):

1. Breathing exercise
2. 5-minute meditation
3. Yoga or stretching class
4. Go for a walk
5. 10-minute stretch
6. Drink more water
7. Take a mindful walk (observe and be aware of your environment).

It sounds pretty straightforward. Most of these can be done in 5 to 30 minutes each day. The mental health benefits include increased well-being and the creation of healthy habits and ways to cope with stress (Goodlife Fitness, 2021). All of the activities included in these challenges can be called self-care.

Children need good mental health to function, just like adults. Assisting students with mental health difficulties in the classroom could entail seeking assistance from various school resources. Guidance counselors, for example, can guide your child through different coping strategies (CMHA, 2023). Schools may also be able to give referrals to doctors or psychiatrists and even give your child extra time on tests and examinations (CMHA, 2023). In Ontario, there are Mental Health and Addictions Nurses that can come to schools and support children suffering from mental health challenges through prevention and intervention and children entering a new school (CMHA, 2023). Luckily, more and more educators are becoming aware of mental health’s importance and are accepting the responsibility to become informed on children’s mental health.

Undiagnosed mental health challenges can lead to “disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and poor quality of life” (NAMI California, 2023). All of the coping strategies we talked about can aid in helping you manage the stressors of being a first-generation immigrant and avoid these severe consequences, as well as create a healthier brain. If you struggle to find time for your mental health, consider starting small. Focus on one thing and go from there, such as exercising or creating a healthier diet. You are in control, and you have options regarding your mental health.


CMHA (2023). Mental health. CMHA Ontario. https://tinyurl.com/4abepvsx

CMHC (2023) Cultural Adjustment: A guide for international students. The University of Texas at Austin.

Ding, H., & Hargraves, L. (2009). Stress-associated poor health among adult immigrants with a language barrier in the United States. Journal of immigrant and minority health, 11(6), 446–452.

GoodLife. (2021, January 6). 30-Day mental wellness challenge. The GoodLife Fitness Blog.

Jang, H., & Tang, F. (2022). Loneliness, age at immigration, family relationships, and depression among older immigrants: A moderated relationship. Journal of social and personal relationships, 39(6), 1602–1622.

Montemitro, D’Andrea, G., Cesa, F., Martinotti, G., Pettorruso, M., Di Giannantonio, M.,

Muratori, R., & Tarricone, I. (2021). Language proficiency and mental disorders among migrants: A systematic review. European Psychiatry, 64(1), e49–e49.

NAMI. (2021, July 26). About mental illness. NAMI California.

Saman Razavi (2021). Breaking through language barriers. Science 371, 206-206. DOI:10.1126/science.371.6525.206

Simon Fraser University (2023). Stages and symptoms of culture shock. International Student Advising and Programs.

Squires A. (2018). Strategies for overcoming language barriers in healthcare. Nursing management, 49(4), 20–27. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NUMA.0000531166.24481.15

The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (2021). AASP 30-day mental health challenge. AASP Blog.

Tonui, Miller, V. J., & Adeniji, D. O. (2023). Older immigrant adults’ experiences with social Isolation: a qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis. Aging & Mental Health, 27(6), 1068–1076.