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Subjective Well-Being, Self-Care, and Mental Health Help-Seeking Tendencies among DACA Students at a Large Public Institution in the Mid-Atlantic United States Open Access

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Abstract of DissertationDeferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy introduced by the Obama administration in 2012, designed to provide work and study authorization to a new generation of previously undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors (Napolitano, 2012). As of December 2019, the DACA program is providing amnesty to 688,810 young people (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2019). Despite widespread popular support for DACA recipients, the politically conservative Trump administration has reacted to this policy with hostility (Brannon & Albright, 2017; Kopan, 2018; Totenberg, 2020; Williams, 2020). In light of an uncertain political future, increasing number of DACA recipients are falling out of legal status and becoming undocumented again. This sudden change in status can have significant impacts on the subjective well-being of the program’s beneficiaries; however, little is known about how recipients engage in self-care or access mental health resources. This study utilized a grounded theory approach to explore how DACA recipients understand subjective well-being, engage in self-care, and explain their help-seeking behavior while studying as post-secondary students. Through the use of sequential interviews with students, interviews with University staff and health providers, and transcript analysis, this research sought to answer the following questions: how do DACA recipients at a large public university in the Mid-Atlantic state of Maryland understand and experience psychological distress and subjective well-being? Specifically, the research explored how DACA recipients understand personal self-care and how social relationships and family dynamic impact help-seeking tendencies during their undergraduate studies. As this study was completed during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the research additionally examines how a global public health crisis has impacted the aforementioned experience. Based on an analysis of the data, a theoretical framework has been developed to explain the experiences of this comparatively understudied group of students. Importantly, this framework explores the impact of significant life transitions, including immigration to the United States, application for DACA status, entrance into university life, and interruptions to education due to a public health emergency to discuss how role transition and burden impacts DACA recipients.

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