The Ulysses Syndrome, A Contemporary Evil

It is called Ulysses syndrome because it refers to the protagonist of the Odyssey, who left his native land and had to face a thousand vicissitudes. This disease affects migrants and sometimes leads to more serious problems, such as addictions or other ailments.
The Ulysses Syndrome, a contemporary disease

Ulysses syndrome, also known as the immigrant disease, is a serious stressful condition that affects those who emigrate and go to live in a place other than their native country. It goes beyond the normal suffering that affects those who leave their home and find themselves in a strange environment. The symptoms and effects can also be very serious.

One of the difficulties that Ulysses syndrome presents is its similarity to other disorders, so its diagnosis can be easily confused with that of other clinical pictures. Moreover, at times, it takes on forms so severe that it is confused with psychosis, but in reality it is an extreme condition of stress.

Ulysses syndrome was described by psychiatrist Joseba Achotegui (University of Barcelona). He closely followed the issue of migration in Spain, one of the European countries that receives more migrants, both permanent and temporary. According to estimates, in fact, this problem affects at least 800,000 residents in the Iberian country.

Little travelers

Migration and the Ulysses syndrome

Migration is a complex phenomenon that has made the resources that many states had to deal with it insufficient. There are different types of migration and not all migrants necessarily suffer from Ulysses syndrome. The personal history and personality of the individual has a great influence, as well as the conditions and environment in which migration, both permanent and temporary, takes place.

A first important factor is the history and personality structure of the migrant. Its autonomy and adaptability are particularly important. Moving to another country to build a new life requires psychological strength and great stamina. It is not easy to find a place in the new environment, but often this change causes latent personality disorders or problems.

The conditions of migration also have a great influence. It is not the same thing to have to emigrate to escape a war and to emigrate to seek a better life or because you see a real opportunity in the place of destination. Likewise, it is very different when one is forced to leave a family in the country of origin.


A decisive aspect in the Ulysses syndrome is the environment in which one fits. This can favor or, conversely, make adaptation very difficult. The same environment may also not be socio-economically ready to welcome migrants. In other words, it is possible that it does not integrate the migrant into the world of work or that it does not provide any type of support.

Ulysses syndrome backpack man

Symptoms of Ulysses Syndrome

Ulysses syndrome occurs when a person feels they have reached a breaking point, in a situation that they cannot process or metabolize. This happens when he realizes that the migration project is substantially impracticable; when he cannot find hospitality or when his economic situation, instead of improving, worsens. This leads to increasing stress, which at some point can stop the person.

At this point, the typical symptoms of Ulysses syndrome appear, which are:

  • Feeling of estrangement. He feels alien to the environment and sees others as strangers. This arouses fear and a profound feeling of vulnerability.
  • Constant sadness. There is a nostalgia for the place of origin and a feeling of suffering that becomes constant.
  • Health problems. Very often physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, breathing problems, etc. begin to appear.
  • Stress and anxiety. It is the most obvious symptom. There is a constant feeling of anguish, as if something terrible is about to happen. There is also difficulty sleeping and great insecurity in relationships with others.
  • Isolation and loss of self-esteem. The person begins to isolate himself from the environment, which he perceives as a threat. This also affects the self-concept, causing self-esteem to suffer.

Sometimes this state turns into a trigger for more serious ailments. It could also lead to addictions or lead to involvement in illegal activities, making it frustrating for the migrant to see that his or her expectations are not met. In many cases it is a serious problem that requires the intervention of a psychologist.

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