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Using validated psychological assessment instruments, this study examined the psychological distress associated with potential language barriers experienced by over 135 000 Puerto Rican residents who either temporarily or permanently migrated to the continental United States with the landfall of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Participants were Puerto Rican residents (n = 107) who remained in Puerto Rico (control) or left the island for at least 3 months because of Hurricane Maria (migrants). Participants completed an online survey in their preferred language (Spanish or English), which assessed self-reported English language proficiency, Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for DSM 5, Patient Health Questionnaire 9-item depression scale, and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale. It was hypothesized that migrants with lower self-reported English proficiency would have comparatively higher indices of post-disaster distress than those with a higher proficiency.
Dividing the migrant group by preferred language for questionnaire completion, the Fisher’s exact test showed significant differences in prevalence of severe mental distress, as defined by K6 scores above 13, between the Spanish-preferring migrants (30.4%), English-preferring migrants (0%), and controls (9.6%).
Our results support a possible correlation between decreased language proficiency in post-disaster migrants and a higher risk factor for severe mental distress.
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