Recently, a community-based study on the acculturative stress–depression link was presented at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana, Nov. 17.
The term acculturation, coined in 1880 by John W. Powellrefers to the modification of the culture of a group or individual as a result of contact with a different culture.
According to the New World Encyclopedia, in the modern multicultural societies, “a child of an immigrant family might be encouraged to acculturate both the culture where they live and their ancestral culture, either of which may be considered ‘foreign’, but are, in fact, both integral parts of the child’s development”.
The initial interest in acculturation grew out of a concern for the effects of European domination of colonial and indigenous peoples. Later, it focused on how immigrants (both voluntary and involuntary) changed following their entry and settlement into receiving societies. More recently, much of the work has been involved with how ethnocultural groups relate to each other, and to change, as a result of their attempts to live together in culturally plural societies. Nowadays, all three foci are important as globalization results in ever larger trading and political relations. Indigenous national populations experience neocolonization; new waves of immigrants, sojourners, and refugees flow from these economic and political changes; and large ethnocultural populations become established in most countries.
Two major types of acculturation
This includes incorporation and directed change.
Incorporation refers to the free borrowing and modification of cultural elements and occurs when people of different cultures maintain contact as well as political and social self-determination. It may involve syncretism, a process through which people create a new synthesis of phenomena that differs from either original culture; adoption, in which an entirely new phenomenon is added to a cultural repertoire; and adaptation, in which a new material or technology is applied to an extant phenomenon.
In contrast, directed change occurs when one group establishes dominance over another through military conquest or political control; thus, imperialism is the most common precursor to directed change. Like incorporation, directed change involves the selection and modification of cultural characteristics.
Acculturative stress related to immigration is known to contribute to anxiety in adults, but parental acculturative stress also appears to affect their children’s anxiety symptoms.
The community-based participatory research study examined the link between acculturative stress and depression among 86 Latino adolescents—41 males and 45 females between ages 12 and 19.
Silvia Bigatti and Richard Fairbanks, and their team from the School of Public Health at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis based their research on epidemiological health disparities data indicating that Latino teens in Indiana have a 65 percent higher rate of suicide attempts and a 24 percent higher rate of depression than white teens.
Further, results indicated that adolescents with low self-mastery, the ability to overcome obstacles, were six times more likely to experience acculturative stress.
The research team reports that nearly 60 percent of the study’s participants had some level of depression, which was much higher than expected. Those who had moderate levels of acculturative stress were 10 times more likely to have depression.
A 2018 study examined the main sources of acculturative stress and their associations with sociodemographic factors and depression among 506 international university students. Students reported that homesickness, culture shock, and discrimination are among the top stress producing factors. Several students’ demographic characteristics such as marital status, age, educational status, friendship with local students, Chinese language proficiency and prior travel experience appeared to be significantly associated with their acculturative stress scores.
The study found all measured stressors contributing to the feeling of the acculturative stress of the students. However, homesickness, culture shock, and discrimination were found to be the first top three leading sources of acculturative stress among the students.
A 2021 study indicates that acculturation stress has a direct impact on children’s depression but no significant direct effect on children’s happiness. Acculturation stress also has indirect effects on depression and happiness via the mediators of need satisfaction and frustration. Acculturation stress is negatively associated with need satisfaction and positively associated with need frustration, which is further significantly predictive of children’s happiness and depression.
Another 2021 study evaluated the psychometric properties of a short scale for the evaluation of acculturation stress (EBEA). The Brief Scale of Acculturation Stress (EBEA) was constructed to measure three dimensions of the degree of stress perceived in the migratory process. The results indicated the scale presents a factorial structure of three dimensions: (1) stress derived from preparation and departure from the country of origin, (2) stress produced by socioeconomic concerns in the host country, and (3) typical tensions of adaptation to sociocultural changes or Chilean society.
In conclusion, the EBEA managed to adequately represent its structure of three latent factors and demonstrated valid and reliable scores for its use in migrant populations equivalent to those of the samples examined in the present study. The EBEA presented a measure that offered a fast and useful screening tool for researchers who needed a brief measure for investigations in the area.
A 2022 study used an original survey instrument to investigate the relationships between acculturative stress, anti-Asian racism, and mental health among a community sample of 200 South Asians in Texas. The results indicate that both acculturative stress and everyday racism are strongly linked to higher levels of anxiety-related symptoms and more frequent depressive symptoms. Everyday racism, however, explained variance in these outcomes, well beyond the effect of acculturative stress and other sociodemographic factors.
As per the author of this study, it is important to focus not only on acculturation, but to also consider the impact of broader social forces, such as racism. By shifting attention to more external factors and acknowledging the potential harm that discrimination can cause, it may be possible to identify tactics, such as anti-racist policies, that can reduce discrimination and/or mitigate its effect on health.