Applied Psychology OPUS

Acculturative Stress, Gender, and Mental Health Symptoms in Immigrant Adolescents

Kara Duca

Adolescent immigrants currently represent the fastest growing fragment of American youth. For this population, the journey to America is often fraught with physical and psychological challenges including acculturative stress. Past research has linked acculturative stress to internalizing symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms, and suggests that immigrant youth are overly susceptible to these outcomes. However, research has yet to explore the role of gender in this association. Considering the rapidly rising number of immigrant adolescents in the United States, the alarming rates of mental health symptoms among adolescents, and the unique stressors that immigrant adolescents face, identifying sources and potential buffers of mental health symptoms are of the utmost importance. This study examined the relation between acculturative stress and internalizing mental health symptoms, as well as the potential moderating role of gender among urban high school students (N = 169) using data from the first wave of the New York City Academic and Social Engagement Study (NYCASES, P.I. Selçuk R. Sirin) in the spring of 2008 (Mage = 16.33 years, SD = 1.57). Barron and Kenny’s (1986) moderation method revealed that gender moderated the negative relation between acculturative stress and all 3 types of internalizing symptoms, although it did so in a different way for each type of symptoms. These results suggest that adolescent immigrant boys and girls vary in their mental health responses to acculturative stress and highlight the attention that researchers, practitioners, and educators must pay to acculturative stress in their work.