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Gender, acculturation, and protective factors in the mental health of Southeast Asian youth in British Columbia Hilario, Carla Theresa

Abstract

Purpose: There is a substantial gap in research that examines mental health in immigrant and visible minority groups. Even less research has considered the link between acculturation, mental health, and protective factors among these adolescents. This study investigated gender and acculturation-related differences in mental health and identified protective factors that buffer against emotional distress among Southeast Asian youth in British Columbia. Methods: A secondary analysis was conducted using data from the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey. Measures included mental health (recent stress, despair, self-harm, suicide, and self-esteem); acculturation (foreign-born status, length of time in Canada, and language spoken at home); and theorized protective factors (family connectedness, school connectedness, and ethnic identity connectedness). Gender differences in level of protective factors were examined using general linear modeling and age-adjusted multivariate models predicting extreme stress and extreme despair were conducted separately by gender and included acculturation measures as well as protective factors. Results: Southeast Asian girls reported significantly higher rates of mental health issues than boys including self-harm activity, suicidal intent, and attempted suicide. In addition, significantly greater numbers of Southeast Asian girls experienced extreme levels of stress and despair. In bivariate testing, acculturation was not significantly related to mental health. However, in the multivariate models, boys and girls who had lived in Canada for less than 5 years were more likely to report extreme levels of despair; girls in Canada for less than 10 years were also more likely to report extreme despair as well as extreme stress. Significant protective factors for boys and girls were family connectedness for both stress and despair as well as school connectedness but only among girls. Higher levels of ethnic identity connectedness were associated with lower odds of despair among boys but higher odds of stress among girls. Discussion and Implications: Immigrant teens may be at higher risk for emotional distress, yet gender differences still exist in the mental health of Southeast Asian youth. Future research must account for gender and acculturation-related differences in mental health and to assess for protective factors that may help mitigate the negative effects of stressors on adolescent mental health.

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