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Table of Contents Show
- What is Ulysses syndrome?
- What causes Ulysses syndrome?
- What makes Ulysses syndrome dangerous?
- How should Ulysses syndrome be dealt with?
The hero of ancient Greek mythology, Odysseus, or alternatively – Ulysses, was forced to leave his homeland of Ithaca and wandered for ten years across the seas, lands, and the realm of the dead.
But for days on end he cried and longed for his homeland. This happens in real life too: forced relocation to another country becomes a serious test for one’s mental health. The pain of parting with loved ones and the old way of life is compounded by a large number of everyday problems, from language barriers to the inability to find work. As a result, stress can become chronic.
Researchers note that after a forced relocation, many experience anxiety, fear, and depression, and sometimes physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach upset are added. This is how the Ulysses syndrome manifests.
What is Ulysses syndrome?
The Ulysses syndrome is a reaction to the stress associated with moving to another country and all the consequences that come with it: from being separated from loved ones to the inability to integrate into a new environment. Another name for the Ulysses syndrome is the syndrome of multiple and chronic stresses of immigrants.
Among the symptoms of the syndrome are depression and the desire to cry, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, obsessive thoughts, as well as somatic discomfort: for example, physical weakness, migraines, stomach upset, pain in the heart and joints.
For the first time, the Ulysses syndrome was described by psychotherapist Joseba Achotegi from the University of Barcelona. He worked for over twenty years in organizations helping immigrants and refugees, and studied their mental state. He noticed that many described the same symptoms and proposed this term to describe them.
Of course, the Ulysses syndrome does not occur after every move: if a person goes to a new country for a good job or new experience, then he is unlikely to face it. Those at risk are those who are forced to move because of danger in their homeland or because of low living standards.
If after emigrating such thoughts occur to you, perhaps it is the Ulysses syndrome:
- “Everything here is simply terrible, I will never get used to living in this country.”
- “I need to learn the language, find a job, get settled, but I don’t have the energy for anything.”
- “We are foreigners here and will never become locals. We have a different mentality, a different culture.”
- “I definitely don’t belong here.”
- “You didn’t need to move here. Where you were born is where you belong.”
What causes Ulysses syndrome?
Because of stress
Factors causing stress accompany a migrant or refugee at all stages of relocation. Primarily, these are circumstances that force them to leave their homeland – human rights violations, natural disasters, wars, poverty.
The road is difficult and expensive: a person may worry that they will not be allowed to cross the border in their own country or be turned back upon arrival. Additionally, some people are afraid to fly. After the move, new difficulties await such as the need to obtain permission for legal residence, learn the language, find a job and housing, and transport relatives. Psychotherapists also identify trauma associated with migration.
Due to difficulties with adaptation in a new country
Those who have moved to another country may find themselves in a vicious circle: on one hand, they want to preserve their native culture and traditions, on the other hand, they need to adapt to local norms and rules. This state is called acculturation stress.
Due to the inability to integrate into communities in a new place
In 2017, scientists studied the mental health of migrants who had moved to Australia. Many respondents complained that their mental state had worsened, citing loneliness and isolation from society as the main reasons. Sometimes, newcomers are not accepted not only by the locals, but also by earlier immigrants. Because of loneliness and detachment from communities, an important and nature-instilled need of a human being – to be accepted into a group – remains unsatisfied.
Also, after moving, people may have problems with self-identification: in their home country, they most likely had a family, a job, and a clear social status, but in a new place, they have to start everything from scratch.
Due to homesickness
Scientists believe that homesickness is linked to the mechanism of attachment, and when a person moves, they suffer just as when they break up with a romantic partner. The consequences of homesickness can be serious – intrusive memories, anxiety, and even physical health problems.
Because of problems with receiving medical care.
Due to problems with receiving medical care
Often, the condition of migrants worsens due to the fact that they cannot seek medical help for their symptoms. This is hindered by the lack of insurance, insufficient funds for private treatment, and difficulties in communicating with medical personnel for diagnosis due to language barriers.
What makes Ulysses syndrome dangerous?
First of all, due to the Ulysses syndrome, a person experiences difficulties in solving everyday problems: headaches, anxiety, and other symptoms complicate even the simplest actions. All of this turns into a vicious cycle: there are not enough resources to change the conditions, and it is precisely these conditions that lead to the aggravation of symptoms.
Joseba Achotegi noted that some symptoms of Ulysses syndrome – sadness and a constant desire to cry – resemble symptoms of depression, but it is still important to distinguish between these conditions. Apathy, a decrease in self-esteem, feelings of guilt and thoughts of death typical for depression are not characteristic of people suffering from Ulysses syndrome. However, over time, without proper treatment, Ulysses syndrome can develop into depression.
Migrants are at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. It manifests itself in uncontrollable painful memories, irritability and anxiety, insomnia and nightmares. According to research, up to 40% of refugees and migrants seeking asylum experience PTSD.
How should Ulysses syndrome be dealt with?
Don’t expect too much of yourself: in order to settle in a new place, establish social connections, and at least speak a little in a new language, you need a sufficient amount of time. The technique of small steps can help – do only what you are capable of right now, and praise yourself for it.
Scientists believe that participating in various communities that provide a sense of belonging and help with everyday problems also often helps to cope with the Ulysses syndrome.
Nowadays, many self-organized communities of people who have moved from their countries are appearing. They help to gather necessary resources, find housing and language courses, or arrange meetings where one can simply chat. However, at the same time, being exclusively in closed groups of compatriots can only hinder adaptation. Therefore, it is worth establishing communication not only with other migrants but also with local residents – neighbors, colleagues. If the symptoms of Ulysses syndrome do not go away for a long time, seek psychological help.