From October 2013 to July 2016, over 156,000 children traveling without their guardians were apprehended at the US-Mexico border. Although these unaccompanied youth have received substantial media attention, little is known about their health and well-being. The current study implemented a concurrent, parallel mixed methods research design, whereby quantitative (survey) and qualitative (focus groups) data were collected simultaneously to explore: (a) the frequency of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use, (b) trauma exposure at pre-migration, migration, and post-migration, and (c) how youth may cope with these adversities. Thirty unaccompanied migrant youth were recruited from middle and high schools. An equal proportion of female and male participants from Honduras (n = 10), Guatemala (n = 8), México (n = 6), and El Salvador (n = 6) completed survey and focus group protocols. Over one-half of the sample met the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (56.7%), 30% met the criteria for major depressive disorder, and 30% reported suicidal ideation in the past year.
While most youth reported no or infrequent substance use, they indicated having easy access to nearly all substances. Qualitative data revealed that youth faced persistent trauma exposure, including family separation, family and community violence, a lack of institutional protection, and pervasive poverty. Coping strategies related to mental health and substance use outcomes. Social withdrawal and avoidant coping were related to posttraumatic stress disorder, higher depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation, while adaptive coping strategies were protective against substance use. Unaccompanied youth flee their counties of origin to escape extreme violence and reunite with family. In the U.S., they report unresolved trauma and grief. If left untreated, these can be risk factors for mental illness and disability in adulthood. Reinforcing healthy coping may be an area where school and community providers can intervene to improve these youths' well-being.