DACA uncertainty takes a toll on affected students’ mental health

By Kelly Zheng

Juan Sandoval often wakes up sweating heavily thinking about going to classes.

“When I’m in this stage, I feel dangerously low and excessively anxious,” he said. “I knew I should stay home again.”

He had symptoms of anxiety and bipolar illness growing up and was diagnosed with a mental health disorder last year, but his panic attacks have worsened since he has been worrying about his undocumented status.

Sandoval is one of 150 some students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients at the University of Maryland. DACA was intended to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from being deported.

“I think about my status almost daily,” the junior psychology major said. “It’s always me thinking about how I can approach things and still succeed without a proper [legal] status.”

He was four years old when he came to the country from El Salvador. He said he applied for DACA in 2015 with high hopes.

However, those hopes turned to doubts after the Trump Administration ended DACA last September. Six months later, around 800,000 recipients are still left in limbo.

DACA students are more prone to mental health conditions due to uncertainty about their future in the country, said Dr. Christina Getrich, the associate director of the Center for Global Migration Studies at this university.

Dr. Maria Berbery, one of the university’s psychologists, agrees that these students have experienced a new wave of exclusion and fear leading to worsened anxiety, depression, and other illnesses.

Sandoval said his mental illnesses have been aggravated by the end of the DACA program. The changes prompted an increase in his symptoms from excessive crying to suicidal thoughts.

“My mood, irritability, restlessness, concentration and anxiety are all affected by this instability,” he said. “With my depressive state, DACA [ending] has pulled me further down, making it hard to control my worries.”

Senior economics major Yuseli is another DACA recipient at this university. Yuseli has asked to be identified by middle name only in order to protect her identity.

She was 10 years old when she came to the U.S. from Honduras. She applied for DACA in 2012, which she said answered her prayers and gave her a more positive outlook.

She felt a sense of belonging after she received her status, but now feels hopeless when she thinks about not having a place to call home anymore.

“I had multiple suicide attempts,” Yuseli said. “My last attempt at 17 took me to the hospital and then to therapy where I was diagnosed with severe depression.”

She said her diagnosis was not related to DACA, however, her status has impacted her mental health.

“I don’t think I’m severely depressed [now], but I do have certain days that bring me to that place where I was once before, knowing my current situation,” she said.

Yuseli added she still seeks professional help when she needs it.

“I never try to make DACA the main subject of the visit, although it has a great effect on me and at the end of the day could potentially define me,” she said. “But I do not let it have that power over my life.”

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