How to Support Undocumented Students' Mental Health: Dealing with Trauma and Anxiety

Overview

Educators, school counselors, and faculty remain the first line of support for students impacted by immigration. In these confusing and often frightening times, it’s important to provide support for students who may not be equipped to process them. This is a resource for educators supporting undocumented students and students from mixed-status families who are experiencing trauma and anxiety. We hope using it will help alleviate some of these feelings of despair, hopelessness, or even just confusion.

Supporting Undocumented Students Dealing with Anxiety

1. Recognize the Cycle

Anxiety not only impacts students at the individual level, but can affect the whole classroom ecosystem. Is one of your students more withdrawn than usual? More boisterous? How are their peers reacting?

2. Involve the Classroom

Start or end your class with light meditation or deep breathing. Utilize grounding techniques that involve the entire classroom.

Some suggestions:

  • UCLA Meditations in English & Spanish
  • David Grand music on Spotify
  • “Meditaciones” in Apple Podcasts or on Spotify
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing on YouTube (or any breathing exercise)
  • Encourage Body Movement at the start, middle or end of class (even virtual sessions)
  • Relaxation app suggestions are available at the Latinx Therapy website

3. Take Breaks

Dedicate time during the day for students to talk about or bond over things happening beyond schoolwork and what they’re hearing in the news. You can also create opportunities for students to socialize or work together in break out groups. Encourage all physically able students to stand up and stretch throughout the day–even if your class is over video!

4. Manage Expectations

During particularly stressful or triggering moments, students are often not able to do their best work. Know that most students are doing everything they can and recognize their efforts. Consider being lenient with deadlines and other expectations.

Visit Tolerance.org to learn more about using a trauma-informed approach to support students and visit Latinx Therapy for additional mental health resources.

Supporting Undocumented Students Dealing with Trauma

1. Know the Signs

Is your student’s body language different?

  • Isolating from students
  • Hygiene has changed
  • Affect is flat, humor has changed
  • Consistent irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating on material/discussions
  • Missing class more often
  • Unable to hold eye contact like before

2. Establish a Routine

Especially in unusual school environments such as mandated remote learning, it’s important to maintain a routine and clearly communicate that routine so that students have a sense of normalcy that can be relied upon.

3. Tend to Yourself

If a student’s trauma is bringing up trauma from your own life or past, take care of yourself before supporting your student.

  • Increase self-care activities
  • Engage in self-soothing strategies
  • Speak to someone about triggers, perhaps even a mental health professional
  • Breathe before engaging with student
  • Direct student to speak with another educator/professional at school
  • Contact the CRISIS Text line by texting HOME to 741741

4. Open Up Space to Talk

Acknowledge that you see your student struggling and let them know that they can talk to you. Put an emphasis on building relationships and supporting the holistic well-being of your students.

5. Provide Resources

Share self-help resources in multiple languages with your students and information about organizations that do pro bono or affordable mental health work. Include resources that address specific circumstances that might be compounding students’ trauma including support for undocumented and mixed-status families and low income families. Make these resources easily accessible so that all students can benefit from them without having to ask.

6. Manage Expectations

During particularly stressful or triggering moments, students are often not able to do their best work. Know that most students are doing everything they can and recognize their efforts. Consider being lenient with deadlines and other expectations. Create a way for students to take space during class or from class work if they feel triggered or overwhelmed.

Visit Tolerance.org to learn more about using a trauma-informed approach to support students and visit Latinx Therapy for additional mental health resources.

In collaboration with: