Ulysses syndrome: chronic stress in immigrants

Ulysses syndrome is a stress disorder specific to immigrants. It is associated with the multiple experiences of bereavement that these people are confronted with, as well as the difficulties they have to overcome in order to adapt to the new context.

In this article we will describe Ulysses syndrome, its main symptoms and most common causes. For this we will base ourselves fundamentally on the work of Joseba Achotegui, the psychiatrist who coined the term by which we refer to this alteration.

    What is Ulysses Syndrome?

    Chronic and multiple stress syndrome, more commonly known as “Ulysses syndrome”, Is a set of symptoms that result from severe stressors associated with emigration. One of the most contributing factors to its emergence is the scarcity of economic resources that many people face in this situation.

    The usual nomenclature for this syndrome refers to Ulysses, a hero of Greek mythology who was known as “Ulysses” in the Roman world. According to the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two main epic texts of ancient Greece, after participating in the Trojan War, the UIises sailed for 10 years through great difficulties before arriving home.

    The term was coined and popularized in the 1990s by Joseba Achotegui, who is currently a full professor at the University of Barcelona and heads the support program called “Psychopathological and Psychosocial Care Service for Immigrants and Refugees” or “SAPPIR”.

    Although this syndrome can affect people of all ages, the available evidence shows that it is more common in the elderly and middle-aged. This is probably due to factors such as reduced possibilities for socialization and greater difficulty in learning the new language or adapting to a different culture.

      main symptoms

      Symptoms present in people with Ulysses syndrome may vary depending on the particular case, but they have been linked to four categories of psychological disorders: anxiety, depression, dissociation (Disconnection from physical and emotional experience) and somatomorphic disorders (physical symptoms of psychogenic origin).

      In the depressive zone, the presence of feelings of sadness associated with the perception of personal failure, low self-esteem, and thoughts of guilt and, rarely, the desire to die emerge. According to Achotegui, specific symptoms are influenced by culture; for exampleGuilt is more common among Westerners than among Asians.

      The experience of anxiety, also very relevant in this syndrome, manifests itself in symptoms such as recurrent and excessive worrying (similar to that of generalized anxiety disorder), a tendency to irritability, psychological and physical stress. or feelings of fear. Insomnia is favored by anxiety and poor living conditions.

      Achotegui encompasses in the spectrum of symptoms and signs of somatization such as headaches, present in three quarters of those diagnosed, and fatigue, associated with a lack of psychological motivation. It also highlights the tendency of Asian people to present sexual symptoms or that of North African women to chest discomfort.

      Other problems that appear frequently in people with Ulysses syndrome are low self-esteem, decreased performance overall, excessive use of substances such as tobacco and alcohol or painful symptoms gastrointestinal, skeletal and muscular.

        Causes of this syndrome

        Ulysses syndrome has been linked to the grieving process, which consists of adaptation to psychologically significant losses. People who migrate are partially separated from their usual environment, from family, friends and even from their identity as citizens of a particular region of the world.

        When the demands of the new situation are perceived as excessive for the migrant, chronic symptoms of stress and other related psychological disorders can appear and negatively influence well-being and adaptation to the context. This chain of events is what is commonly referred to as Ulysses syndrome.

        The feeling of socio-cultural isolation is considered to be a key factor in the appearance of the syndrome. In this sense, ignorance of the language or differences in values ​​are relevant, however also prejudice and discrimination on ethnic and cultural grounds to which immigrants from many countries are systematically subjected.

        In cases where the migration process has been carried out illegally, fear of possible consequences (especially internment and deportation) is an additional stress with particularly high potential to foster a state of chronic emotional distress.

        On the other hand, Ulysses syndrome is also favored by the marked difficulties encountered by a large number of immigrants in trying to legalize their situation, look for work or access basic services such as housing and medical care. Frustration with personal and financial expectations of the person is also relevant.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Achotegui, J. (2005). Limiting stress and mental health: immigrant syndrome with chronic and multiple stress (Ulysses syndrome). Nordic Journal of Mental Health of the Spanish Society of Neuropsychiatry, 5 (21): 39-53.
        • Achotegui, J., Morales, MM, Cervera, P., Quirós, C., Pérez, JV, Gimeno, N., Llopis, A., Moltó, J., Torres, AM & Borrell, C. (2010) Features immigrants with chronic immigrant stress syndrome or Ulysses syndrome. from the Spanish Society of Neuropsychiatry, 8 (37): 23-30.
        • Díaz-Cuéllar, AL, Ringe, HA and Schoeller-Diaz, DA (2013) Ulysses syndrome: Migrants with chronic and multiple stress symptoms and the role of community health workers with indigenous language and cultural skills. Retrieved from www.panelserver.net/laredatenea/documentos/alba.pdf on July 27, 2017.

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