Maternal Mental Health: The Compounded Trauma of Migration and Detention

Francisca Rivera

Migrant women in various stages of pregnancy face increased compounded stressors during their journey to the United States. Those compounded stressors include, but are not limited to, exposure to violence and abuse, distress, poverty, and most importantly the trauma of being detained and giving birth while in detention, which can all lead to the onset of maternal mental health disorders, such as PPD and PTSD. The purpose of this paper is to examine the increased turmoil pregnant women face during their migrant journey, specifically their experiences during mandated detention upon arrival in the U.S., and how those experiences negatively impact their mental health. The increased detention of pregnant migrant women has severe impacts on their mental health because of the continued exposure to stress, anxiety, and trauma directly caused by persecution and criminalization by the U.S. immigration system. Through an in depth literature review of past and current immigration policy, empirical evidence of migrant women’s experiences, and maternal mental health studies outlined in longitudinal research and qualitative data analysis, further emphasis on mental health disorder susceptibilities and the detrimental effects exposure to trauma during pregnancy has on migrant women is examined. Although available literature documents migrant experiences, the research lacks an emphasis on pregnant migrant women’s experience of systemic violence, including human and reproductive rights violations while in the custody of US government agencies belonging to DHS, and how those experiences impact humanitarian immigration and influence health outcomes. Intervention and prevention of maternal mental health problems is a global health challenge that has societal and public health implications for the U.S. immigrant population.


Keywords: Migrant, Maternal Mental Health, PPD, PTSD, Detention, Immigration


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