Coping with COVID-19 – Immigrants, Refugees and Their Families

  • Your mental well-being is just as important as your physical well-being.
  • Regardless of your race, ethnicity or immigration status you are NOT alone. Tap into your local support groups.
  • Treatment, testing, and seeking medical care related to COVID-19 should not put you at risk of deportation

Content created by C. Kenzie Corbin, University of Michigan Medical School Class of 2023 and Jennifer Severe, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry 


COVID-19 is a respiratory viral infection that is easily transmitted from person to person, crossing all boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, religious affiliation, geographic location, and other affinity groups. Despite the universality of the virus, emerging data are showing some populations are more vulnerable to becoming infected such as those who live and work in crowded areas, like immigration detention centers, and have lower access to healthcare services, or those who are part of disadvantaged and underrepresented minority groups such as Blacks and Latinos. In addition to its physical health consequences, COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty and worry around the world which can lead to the exacerbation of preexisting mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder. 

You Are NOT Alone – What to Do

We are currently living in a global pandemic, which is another way of saying that we are all living in a shared calamity. While we all may be experiencing the same trauma, it is affecting each of us differently, in unimaginable ways. Perhaps you are an essential worker, waking up early to completely disinfect the grocery store before the first customers arrive, and having to manage your own discomfort and stress. Perhaps you were in the middle of adjusting your immigration status and the entire process got halted; the anxiety of being separated from your family or relocating to another country is overwhelming. Perhaps you are an international student at risk of protracting your stay in the country and losing your immigration status as you strive to find new prospects under an Optional Practical Training (OPT). Maybe you have experienced xenophobic discrimination and stay up all night thinking about your identity and sense of belonging? The list of psychological burden brought about by COVID-19 goes on and on. You are not alone.

There are mental health clinicians such as psychiatrists and therapists who are available to work with you, listen to you, and offer guidance. Your conversation with them should remain confidential and has nothing to do with your immigration status or your immigration process.

Additionally, we urge you to utilize your existing support structures such as your church, mosque, or community groups. Remain aware of ongoing immigration changes and seek legal counsel when needed. Do not keep your problems to yourselves.

If you are an international student who needs time to mentally recover without putting your student visa in jeopardy, mental health clinicians are there to support you in your application for a reduced course load plan or leave of absence if deemed clinically indicated.

Keeping up with healthy practices including self-care, a balanced diet, exercise, and abstaining from substances promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

How To Get Help 

  • If you have seen a psychiatrist or therapist in the past for previous mental health issues, touch base with them and update them on your current health status and situation. Therapy sessions are available online on platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts.
  • If you have no health insurance, find Safety Nets Clinics which are local community health clinics that offer medical care at low cost or no charge, regardless of your immigration status. They also distribute supplies like hand sanitizer and masks, and offer other support services.
  • If you have plans to relocate into another country or go to your home country, talk to your doctors to ensure you have a solid plan for your treatment and that you are prescribed medications you will most likely find in the destination country.
  • According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, seeking Care for COVID-19 should not impact your immigration status. For more information visit the USCIS webpage
  • It is important to remain informed about COVID-19 in your own language. If there is a language barrier, use resources like this that explain when and how to seek care in 30+ different languages.

M-Terp Interpreter Services are available at 734-936-8377 or 734-936-8377 to speak with a Michigan Medicine Interpreter.

  • Confidential, toll-free, multilingual 24/7, 7 days a week, free services are available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Disaster Distress Helpline. Call 1-800-985-985-5900 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
    If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the 24/7 free National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.