Drug-war Violence, Mental Health, and Coping Mechanisms among Mexican-origin Women in El Paso, Texas

Nora Angelica Benavides Heiras, University of Texas at El Paso


This thesis examines how the drug-war violence in México from 2006 to 2012 shaped the experiences of migrant women who were adapting to life in El Paso, TX (USA) after leaving Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This study is oriented through a testimonio approach, which involves telling the stories of ten Mexican origin women interviewed between 2012 and 2014. It focuses on their narratives about their traumatic experiences with drug-war related violence in Juarez and forced migration to El Paso, TX and how they coped with the challenges to achieve resilience after arriving in the US. I also report on their mental health status. All ten women went through a traumatic experience due to the drug-war violence in Mexico and fled the country for that reason. The study shows that women who were forced to migrate due to the drug-war violent situation in Ciudad Juarez experienced psychological stress. Eight of the ten were symptomatic for anxiety, depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) based on a screening tool. In addition to their traumatic experiences in Juarez and the forced migration, for some women, their lack of legal status in the US was another source of stress once they arrived in El Paso. All reported some challenges adapting to their new life and culture in the US, but all showed signs of resilience and adaptation after moving to the U.S. Most of those who can legally do so still cross back to Mexico occasionally for personal reasons or because of work or medical reasons. Some of them felt the need for general therapy and help and a few were part of counseling or therapy groups. The majority considered themselves as religious or as having faith in God, and some found help and counsel through church groups and church services. Some also relied on their families and friends for support. This thesis illustrates the personal and social toll that living through the violence in Mexico took on women migrants to the US and how they are resilient in the face of struggle.

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Recommended Citation

Heiras, Nora Angelica Benavides, "Drug-war Violence, Mental Health, and Coping Mechanisms among Mexican-origin Women in El Paso, Texas" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10979384.