Study Finds Lower Depression Rates Among DACA Eligible Individuals

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital—a Harvard teaching hospital—and the Harvard School of Public Health found lower rates of depression among undocumented immigrants eligible for the federal administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

Since the introduction of the policy in 2012, over 850,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children have received renewable, temporary work permits under DACA. Last November, President Drew G. Faust signed a letter urging for the expansion of DACA, stating that undocumented students “represent what is best about America” and “are essential to the future.”

Examining the annual U.S. National Health Interview Survey data from more than 14,000 non-citizen Hispanic adults from 2008 to 2015, researchers identified DACA-eligible individuals and compared changes in self-reported depression symptoms before and after the 2012 implementation of DACA. The study showed that DACA-eligible persons were 50 percent less likely to report symptoms of major depression than those who were ineligible for DACA. The study did not find any significant association between self-reported health and DACA eligibility.

While an executive order has been drafted to repeal DACA, President Trump has yet to sign the order and said that DACA was a “very difficult subject” in February.

Senior author and Mass General psychiatrist Alexander C. Tsai ’98 described the current status of DACA as an “open question” and said that President Trump could do something “erratic” or “unexpected.”


Tsai said that most of the current arguments against repealing DACA has focused on an economic or human rights framework. The group’s study takes a different tack, focusing on a medical framework, which Tsai referred to as “one more reason not to get rid of [DACA].”

“Our study provides for the first time medical evidence to support an argument made from the perspective of health and well-being,” Tsai said. “We found large declines in people meeting criteria from moderate to severe depression.”

Tsai said that if the data from this study were extrapolated, researchers would expect DACA to have prevented about 60,000 cases of moderate to severe depression.

“It stands to reason that if you eliminate DACA, you can see a very large mental health crisis in the US,” said Tsai.

Jin Park ’18, a student currently protected by DACA, said that the study was “long overdue” and that he’d expect similar findings in the future. In 2016, Park wrote an opinion editorial published in The Crimson about his experiencing growing up undocumented.

Jin Park
Jin K. Park '18, holding his DACA card, learned English when he moved to the United States when he was 7 years old.

“I hope that studies like these will continue to be published, that investigators continue to ask these types of questions,” said Park. “What are the public health implications of policy on immigrants and their communities?”

Park said that his undocumented immigrant parents are currently unprotected by DACA or other policies and that the federal government’s policies have generated “a lot of fear and uncertainty.” Park said his family avoids seeking medical treatment for the fear of deportation.

“In my opinion, health shouldn’t be political," Park said. “I hope that this conversation about health isn’t politicized, because immigrant communities would suffer.”

—Staff writer William L. Wang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @wlwang20.


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