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Immigration to the USA and risk for mood and anxiety disorders: variation by origin and age at immigration

  • J. Breslau (a1), G. Borges (a2), Y. Hagar (a3), D. Tancredi (a4) and S. Gilman (a5)...

Risk for mood and anxiety disorders associated with US-nativity may vary across immigrant groups.


Using data from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), we examined the association of lifetime risk for mood and anxiety disorders with US-nativity and age at immigration across seven subgroups of the US population defined by country or region of ancestral origin: Mexico, Puerto-Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Africa and the Caribbean. Discrete time survival models were used to compare lifetime risk between the US-born, immigrants who arrived in the USA prior to the age of 13 years and immigrants who arrived in the USA at the age of 13 years or older.


The association of risk for mood and anxiety disorders with US-nativity varies significantly across ancestral origin groups (p<0.001). Among people from Mexico, Eastern Europe, and Africa or the Caribbean, risk for disorders is lower relative to the US-born among immigrants who arrived at the age of 13 years or higher (odds ratios in the range 0.34–0.49) but not among immigrants who arrived prior to the age of 13 years. There is no association between US-nativity and risk for disorder among people from Western Europe and Puerto Rico.


Low risk among immigrants relative to the US-born is limited to groups among whom risk for mood and anxiety disorder is low in immigrants who spent their pre-adolescent years outside of the USA.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: J. Breslau, Ph.D., Sc.D., University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Center for Reducing Health Disparities, 2921 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95817, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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