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Here’s How Dreamers Can Take Care of Their Mental Health

The recent ICE raids and increase in hateful rhetoric about immigrants has been incredibly stressful and deeply upsetting to many of my clients. My clients, who are predominantly young people of color, include teens who are undocumented or who have undocumented family. As I talked about last week, immigration policy has a real, tangible effect on their lives and can seriously impact young people’s mental health.

This week, I want to talk more about specific ways that Dreamers and young people with undocumented family can take care of themselves. This list is definitely not exhaustive, and what’s best for you and your family depends on your unique circumstances. However, taking care of your mental health is an important part of staying safe in uncertain times.

1. Take a break from the news.

As I’ve talked about before, many of my clients spend a lot of their time watching immigration news. While it’s great to stay informed, following the news too closely can have a major impact on how safe young people feel. Remember that not all media sources are totally reliable, and can make news sound worse than it is. Pay attention to how following the news makes you feel. If you notice that you feel anxious, can’t fall asleep, or have physical reactions like trembling or shaking, consider taking a break. It’s great to stay informed, but not if it takes a serious toll on your mental health. Instead, do something that you enjoy: read a book, take a walk, or spend time with your friends.

2. Keep up with your normal routine.

Routines keep you grounded in reality and force you to interact with the wider world. Sticking with your everyday routine—going to school or work, going grocery shopping, hanging out with friends—helps get you out of the house and away from the constant stream of news. Staying social is really important for your mental health, and it forces your mind to focus on the parts of your life that fulfill you. Isolating yourself, on the other hand, can easily lead to a spiral of anxiety and depression. If you start worrying about being detained every time you leave your house, consider talking to a therapist.

If you’re frequently worried that a family member has been detained, learn their routine. Ask them to text or call if they know they’re going to be home late, and do the same for them.

3. Create a plan.

I encourage my clients to have an open conversation with their families about what will happen if they or another family member is detained. If you’re a caretaker, who should the people you look after get in contact with? Who will take care of them? Make sure everyone you look after has multiple ways to get in touch with the person who will take care of them. If they are citizens, make sure they know where their proof of citizenship is. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has more detailed information on how to make a plan here. Having a plan can not only keep your family safe, but it can help give you and your family some peace of mind.

4. Know your rights.

Knowledge is power, and knowing your rights and where to seek additional support can alleviate distress in these situations. Do not open your door to ICE agents until they show you a signed search warrant. If they do not have a search warrant, you do not have to open the door. The ACLU has step-by-step instructions for what to do if you think an ICE agent is at your door in English here and in Spanish here. They also have examples of what a signed search warrant looks like. Do NOT show ICE fake documents, and NEVER sign anything that they do not understand. Interpreters should be provided if you do not read or speak English well. In addition, be aware that schools, medical facilities, places of worship, and certain other locations are designated “sensitive locations” and are protected from ICE raids or inspections.

If you live in the New York City area, Make the Road provides a variety of support services, including workshops on knowing your rights. Search for resources near you, so you know where to go if you need support.

5. Take your mental health seriously.

If you’re so preoccupied with thoughts of deportation that you cannot concentrate at school, or you are having a hard time falling sleep or going to school or work, consider talking to a therapist or medical provider.  Medical and mental health providers will not report undocumented immigrants to officials. We are here to help and support you. If you live near NYC, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides completely free medical and mental health services to young people 10-22 years old. We will not ask your immigration status. We also provide free legal services to our patients, and can answer any questions you have about your rights.

Susann Cortes, LMSW is a social worker who provides individual short-term and long-term therapy for adolescents at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.  Susann is passionate about exploring and maximizing individuals’ inner strengths and talents while validating their life experiences, including trauma, and genuine motivation for change.  She specializes in trauma, PTSD, and behavioral therapies.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

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