Migratory grief?

A letter from our December edition.

Immigration is not a new phenomenon in the UK. Many people are coming from all parts of the world to start a new life. This process and their impact on British culture and society has been revived by many psychologists, educators and historians. The ultimate aim is to help them to integrate to the host culture as quick as it can be. On the other hand, for immigrants, this process is more than going on a holiday for few weeks or few months. When they come to new country, they are starting to close an important chapter in their life. Whether they are leaving their home country for economic reasons, war, marriage or education, this process is same for all. They desire to establish a new life for themselves, for their families however confronting the realities cause deep pain, sadness, loneliness, grief-like symptoms and somatoform disorders. Depression among migrants can be explained in number of theories; however, I would like to highlight the fact that geographical relocation induces a sense of loss and the reactions are similar to grief.

There are two types of losses: physical, which refers to tangible loss, such as loss of a loved one; and symbolic loss, which refers to abstract loss, such as loss of a homeland, status, social environment, ego strength and social identity in which indeed immigrants experience the most. Loss of any of these will bring about the grief stage. As Parkes (1965) states, grief is completed in four stages: numbness, yearning and searching, disorganisation and despair, and reorganisation. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to reach the last stage of grieving where an individual feels interest in life and moves on in life without what has been lost. If the grief is unresolved or there is a prolonged mourning, there will be an internalisation of it that will lead to depression. In other words, they stuck in the second phase of grieving process.

Clearly, cultural identity and mourning differ across cultures, and not all migrants face to migratory depression. Certain degree of biological, psychological and social vulnerability may contribute to this phase. It is unclear how long the grieving process will take. Besides, in my practice, I have come across with patients with feelings around loss of homeland 13–15 years after their departure. So it is perhaps time to conduct more qualitative and quantitative researches and develop a reliable and valid instrument that measures migratory grief in order to advance the theoretical understanding and needs of immigrants.

Inci Tebis Picard

Parkes, C.M. (1965). Bereavement and mental illness (Part 2): A classification of bereavement reactions. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 33, 13–26.

Editor’s note: For some exclusive online perspectives on the ‘migration crisis’, see tinyurl.com/psychmigra

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