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Ulysses syndrome: chronic stress in immigrants

Ulysses syndrome: chronic stress in immigrants

June 11, 2024

Ulysses syndrome is a specific stress disorder for immigrants . It is associated with the multiple experiences of grief that these people face, as well as the difficulties they must overcome to adapt to the new context.

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

  • Related article: "The psychology behind emigration"

What is Ulysses syndrome?

The Chronic and Multiple Stress Syndrome, more commonly known as "Ulysses syndrome" , is a set of symptoms that derives from severe stressors associated with emigration. One of the factors that contribute the most in its appearance is the scarcity of economic resources that many people face in this situation.


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

The term was coined and popularized in the 1990s by Joseba Achotegui, who currently serves as full professor at the University of Barcelona and directs the support program that is called "Psychopathological and Psychosocial Care Service for Immigrants and Refugees "Or" SAPPIR ".

Although this syndrome can affect people of all ages, the available evidence reveals that It is more common in the elderly and middle-aged . This is probably due to factors such as the lower number of socialization opportunities and the greater difficulty to learn the new language or to adapt to a different culture.


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Main symptoms

The symptoms present in people with Ulysses syndrome may vary depending on the particular case, but have been related to four categories of psychological alterations: anxiety, depression, dissociation (disconnection of physical and emotional experience) and somatoform disorders (physical symptoms of psychogenic origin).

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

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


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

Other problems that frequently appear in people with Ulysses syndrome are low self-esteem, the decrease in performance at a general level, excessive consumption of substances such as tobacco and alcohol or painful symptoms gastrointestinal, osseous and muscular.

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Causes of this syndrome

The Ulysses syndrome has been linked to the grieving process, which consists of adaptation to psychologically significant losses . People who emigrate are separated in part from their usual environment, their family, their friends and even their identity as citizens of a specific 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 alterations may appear that negatively influence well-being and adaptation to the context. This chain of events is what is generally known as Ulysses syndrome.

The sensation of sociocultural isolation is considered a key factor in the appearance of the syndrome. In this sense, the ignorance of the language or the differences in values ​​are relevant, but also prejudices and discrimination on ethnic and cultural grounds to which immigrants from many countries are subjected in a systematic way.

In cases where the migration process has been carried out illegally, the fear of possible consequences (in particular detention and deportation) is an additional stressor and with a particularly high potential to favor a state of chronic emotional distress .

On the other hand, the Ulysses syndrome is also favored by the marked difficulties experienced by a large number of immigrants when trying to legalize their situation, when looking for work or when accessing basic services such as housing and medical assistance. The frustration of personal and economic expectations of the person is also relevant.

Bibliographic references:

  • Achotegui, J. (2005). Limiting stress and mental health: the Immigrant Syndrome with Chronic and Multiple Stress (Ulysses Syndrome). North 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) Characteristics of immigrants with chronic immigrant stress syndrome or Ulysses syndrome. of the Spanish Society of Neuropsychiatry, 8 (37): 23-30.
  • Diaz-Cuéllar, A.L., Ringe, H.A. & Schoeller-Diaz, D.A. (2013) The Ulysses Syndrome: Migrants with chronic and multiple stress symptoms and the role of indigenous linguistically and culturally competent community health workers. Retrieved from www.panelserver.net/laredatenea/documentos/alba.pdf on July 27, 2017.

The misfortunes of Ulysses: Interviews on immigrant stress and grief (Ulysses syndrome) (June 2024).


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