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Acculturative Stress and Depressive Symptoms among Afghan Immigrants in the U.S.

By January 1, 2016November 19th, 2020Blogs, Dr. Jenny Yip

Afghan American immigrants are a relatively small minority group compared to other ethnic groups in the U.S. However, due to war and instability in their home country, Afghan immigrants are one of the fastest growing Middle Eastern minority groups in the U.S. Depressive symptoms are a common psychological concern in this group (Sahar, 1998); however, little research has looked into what might contribute to such symptoms. This study, completed as part of my doctoral dissertation requirement, examined how acculturative stress might play a role.

Acculturative stress is described as the psychological effect of adaptation to a new culture (Smart & Smart, 1995). Many cultural factors, such as ethnicity, country of origin, concept of self, customs, values, religion, social life, education, employment, food, music, and language play a crucial role in the process of acculturation. For example, among Afghans, social life revolves around frequent visits from family members, relatives, and friends (Lipson & Meleis, 1983). This lifestyle is challenged when older Afghan men and women are unable to socialize with family and friends due to transportation problems, distance, language barriers, and their children’s busy work schedules, resulting in feelings of isolation (Lipson & Meleis, 1983).
Another major factor that can be responsible for acculturative stress among this population is family interdependence and collectivism. Collectivism and family life is the basis of Afghan culture; therefore, children live with their families until they are married and, when parents are older, children are expected to care for their aged parents (Lipson & Meleis, 1983). These cultural values are challenged when children move out of the house prior to marriage and are unable to maintain close contact with family members or provide care to elderly parents due to a busy lifestyle in America.
Moreover, educational factors may also serve as a source of acculturative stress. Educated Afghan men and women, including doctors and engineers, are faced with the challenge of not being able to find jobs in their professions due to language barriers, outdated training laws, and financial issues, which often result in high levels of distress for this population (Lipson & Meleis, 1983).
The results of this study indicate that acculturative stress among Afghan immigrants is associated with depressive symptoms (i.e., the more acculturative stress experienced by Afghan immigrants, the more depressive symptoms they reported). Interestingly, the results also indicated that the relationship is not explained by other factors, including the age in which the individual immigrated to the U.S. and the number of years lived in the U.S. These findings highlight the impact of cultural processes on the mental health of Afghan immigrants.
Sahar, D. (1998). Depression among Refugees in the West. Afghan Mosaic Magazine. Retrieved from
Lipson, J.G., & Meleis, A.I. (1983). Issues in Health Care of Middle Eastern Patients. In Cross Culture Medicine. The Western Journal of  Medicine, 139:854-861. Retrieved from
Podikunju, S. (2008). Extent of Acculturation Experiences Among High School Muslim Students in America. Retrieved from
Smart, D.W., & Smart, J.F. (1995). Acculturative Stress: The Experience of the Hispanic Immigrant (abstract). The Counseling Psychologist, 23(1): 25-42. Retrieved from

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