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Trauma and Stress Among Central American Immigrants Living in Langley Park, Maryland Open Access

Central Americans from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras represent one of the largest growing populations in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area (Krogstad & Keegan, 2015; Zong & Batalova, 2015). As the U.S. population grows more diverse, the health and wellbeing of migrant populations becomes more important in the understanding of global public health and related policies. Nonetheless, the breadth information about the health issues and vulnerabilities related to transnational migration is still narrow, particularly in the context of Central American migration. This investigation seeks to better understand the sociocultural circumstances that surround Central American migration to the U.S. and how those conditions influence the mental health of the population studied. Specifically, the study explores the occurrence of stress and experience of traumatic events, considering Central American immigrants’ life history in their country of origin, their migration experience, and their ability to adjust to living in the United States. This exploratory, qualitative-quantitative investigation analyses a total of 75 migration-focused life history interviews, collected in Spanish in Langley Park, MD. The study population is composed of 59% female and 41% male participants between the ages of 18 and 57. A minimum of 10 follow-up interviews with immigrant community leaders in Langley Park will be collected, focusing on cultural expression and understanding of stress and trauma. The potential for psychological stress is high in each segment of migratory transition. The two primary reasons for leaving respondents’ home country are to escape violence victimization, and poverty. Those escaping violence have fled from gang violence, domestic violence, or discriminatory violence. More than two-thirds of respondents experienced migration stress, including experiencing or witnessing violence or sexual assault, imprisonment for ransom, temporary incarceration, and difficulties crossing the Mexican desert. Almost half experienced health problems during migration. Most respondents face difficulty adjusting to life in the U.S. due to high living costs, insecurity due to the current political climate, lack of doctors nearby, language barriers, and lack of social support. Despite the hardships, most participants cite work opportunities, better safety, and access to schools and transportation as positive components of living in the United States. This pilot study will lay the groundwork for important future research on the social determinants of health among Central American and other non-Latino immigrant populations. Additionally, this research will serve as a reference for larger-scale epidemiology studies regarding Central American immigrant stress and PTSD.

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