Migrating in extreme emotional situations: Ulysses syndrome

By Joseba Achotegui Loizatge, University of Barcelona

Migrating today is becoming for millions of people in a process that has such intense stress levels that they can overcome the adaptive capacity of human beings. These individuals suffer the risk of suffering from immigrant syndrome with chronic and multiple stress or Ulysses syndrome (mentioning the Greek hero who suffered innumerable adversities and dangers away from loved ones).

However, paradoxically, at the anthropological level today we know that the ability to emigrate constitutes one of the distinctive features of our species and is at the base of our great evolutionary success.

When it affects mental health

Given this situation, obviously, the question is: human beings being such good migrants, How can it be that emigrating today is so terrible for so many people, to the point that it affects their mental health? I believe that there is a great dehumanization when dealing with the migrations of today, since very little attention is paid to the feelings, to the experiences of the protagonists of the migration, the immigrants.

Migration, like most of life's events, has a set of difficulties of tensions, of situations of effort, along with a series of advantages, of benefits (such as access to new vital opportunities and horizons). Migration would have a problematic part, a dark side, which is called stress or migratory grief.

The duels of emigration

I believe that there would be 7 duels in migration in relation to:

1. The family.

2. The tongue.

3. The culture.

4. The earth.

5. The social status.

6. The group of membership.

7. Physical risks.

These duels would occur, to a greater or lesser extent, in all migratory processes, but we consider that it is not the same to live the migration in good conditions (simple duel) than to emigrate in extreme situations (extreme duel) when the conditions are so difficult that there is no possibility of elaboration of the duel and the person enters a situation of permanent crisis, being this type of migratory duel the characteristic of Ulysses Syndrome.

The most important stressors are:

1. The forced separation of loved ones, which supposes a breakdown of attachment instinct.

2. The feeling of hopelessness about the failure of the immigration project and the absence of opportunities.

3. The struggle for survival (where to feed or where to find a sleeping roof).

4. The fear, the terror that they live in the migratory trips (boats or to go hidden in trucks), the threats of the mafias or the detention and expulsion, the defenselessness for lacking rights, etc.

A chronic situation

But, in addition, these stressors of such relevance and that go beyond the classic acculturative stress are increased by a whole series of factors that enhance them such as multiplicity (the more stressors, the greater the risk: the stressors are enhanced among them), the chronicity (since these borderline situations can affect the immigrant for months or even years) or the feeling that the individual does what he does , you cannot modify your situation.

Obviously, the long experience of such intense stress situations profoundly affects the personality of the subject and his homeostasis, giving rise to a broad symptomatology: symptoms of the depressive area (mainly sadness and crying), symptoms of the area of ​​anxiety (tension, insomnia, recurring and intrusive thoughts, irritability), symptoms of the somatization area such as fatigue, osteoarticular discomfort, headache, migraine (it is so frequent that for short we call it in-migraine), symptoms of the confusional area that may be related to the increase in cortisol and that may be erroneously diagnosed as psychotic disorders.

And to this symptomatology is added in many cases an interpretation of his painting based on the subject's own culture. Thus, it is common to hear say:I can't have such bad luck, they had to throw me the evil eye, they made me witchcraft … ”

Health Prevention Area

Ulysses Syndrome is immersed in the area of ​​health and psychosocial prevention rather than in the area of ​​treatment, and the intervention must be primarily psychoeducational and emotional containment, so the work on the syndrome does not only concern medical psychologists or psychiatrists, but social workers, nurses, social educators and other healthcare professionals.

Bad times these in which ordinary people must behave like heroes to survive. Ulysses was a demigod who, however, barely survived the terrible adversities and dangers to which he was subjected. But the people who arrive today at our borders are only people of flesh and blood who, however, live episodes as or more dramatic than those described in the Odyssey.

Loneliness, fear, hopelessness … The migrations of the new millennium remind us more and more of Homer's old texts. If nobody is to survive, it must be permanently invisible, there will be no identity, no self-esteem, no social integration, and there can be no mental health.

Joseba Achotegui Loizatge, Professor of the Faculty of Psychology, University of Barcelona

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.