Separating Families of Illegal Immigrants: A Mental Health Crisis

I, like many of you, have heard about the separation of children from their families at the United States-Mexico border. I’ve seen the images of children of children fenced in and treated cruelly.

Activists have made a big deal about the inhumanity of this policy from an immigration perspective, and rightfully so. However, I want to use this week’s post to discuss the cruelty of this policy from a mental health perspective, because the mental health implications of these actions are not getting the attention they deserve.

Numerous studies and experts have shown that the family turmoil caused by this separation has a negative affect on the mental health of everyone in the family. Here are a few studies and experts worth noting:

  1. A recent study published by the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry noted that, “Separation from a family member was significantly related to all three measures of mental health.” This article believes that the mental health consequences of this separation need to be addressed.
  2. Dr. Colleen Kraft, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said about her tour of one of the immigration detention centers that, “Normally toddlers are rambunctious and running around. We had one child just screaming and crying, and the others were really silent. And this is not normal activity or brain development with these children.” She also expressed about child detention that, “It disrupts their brain architecture and keeps them from developing language and social, emotional bonds, and gross motor skills, and the development that they could possibly have.” As a result, Dr. Kraft describes these actions as “government-sanctioned child abuse.”[1]
  3. The American Psychological Association has cited a “mental health crisis” that has been caused by the current policy on family separation.[2]

But how can the Untied States address the mental health impacts of this policy?

Based on studies that exist on the topic of family separation and mental health, a good start is to end the current policy on this family separation. However, curtailing this policy is just that: a start.

What’s also needed is a comprehensive mental health care plan for families who have been affected by the separation of families and the detainments of children. This is needed because the erasure of this cruel policy will not remove the negative mental health impacts experienced by those who were victimized by said policy. However, comprehensive mental health care for those affected by the policy can hopefully start to address the scars that were created.

Obviously, this idea may be controversial because it proposes the idea of helping illegal immigrant families. However, if the United States were to truly care for the mental health of these separated families, such a measure is sorely needed. Doing otherwise would be unjust.

Note: I wrote this post hours before I published it. I therefore apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.


[1] http://thehill.com/latino/392790-american-academy-of-pediatrics-president-trumps-family-separation-policy-is-child

[2] http://fortune.com/2018/06/15/doctors-trump-border-separation-policy-causing-mental-health-crisis-families/