Trajectories of cultural stressors and effects on mental health and substance use among Hispanic immigrant adolescents

J Adolesc Health. 2015 Apr;56(4):433-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.12.011. Epub 2015 Jan 30.


Purpose: We sought to determine the extent to which initial levels and over-time trajectories of cultural stressors (discrimination, negative context of reception, and bicultural stress) predicted well-being, internalizing symptoms, conduct problems, and health risk behaviors among recently immigrated Hispanic adolescents. Addressing this research objective involved creating a latent factor for cultural stressors, establishing invariance for this factor over time, estimating a growth curve for this factor over time, and examining the effects of initial levels (intercepts) and trajectories (slopes) of cultural stressors on adolescent outcomes.

Methods: A sample of 302 recently immigrated Hispanic adolescents in Miami (median of 1 year in the United States at baseline) and Los Angeles (median of 3 years in the United States at baseline) was recruited from public schools and assessed six times over a 3-year period.

Results: Perceived discrimination, context of reception, and bicultural stress loaded onto a latent factor at each of the first five timepoints. A growth curve conducted on this factor over the first five timepoints significantly predicted lower self-esteem and optimism, more depressive symptoms, greater aggressive behavior and rule breaking, and increased likelihood of drunkenness and marijuana use.

Conclusions: The present results may be important in designing interventions for Hispanic immigrant children and adolescents, including those within the present wave of unaccompanied child migrants. Results indicate targeting cultural stressors in interventions may have potential to improve well-being and decrease externalizing behaviors and substance use within this population.

Keywords: Adolescent; Conduct problems; Context of reception; Cultural stress; Depressive symptoms; Discrimination; Hispanic; Immigrant; Positive youth development; Substance use.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Culture
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / ethnology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Florida / epidemiology
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Los Angeles / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Prejudice / psychology
  • Prejudice / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Concept
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology