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The Trauma of Immigration

Travelling or going on holiday is often one of the most exciting times anyone can experience but for some it can also be a sad as one embarks on unknown journies to unknown places and to live a life unknown to their current reality.

Most of us are excited to journey, see and enjoy new places, but have you ever thought of the trauma one may get about journing to an unknown land leaving behind family and friends and journey where you know nobody and nobody knows you?


Immigration can be described as a loss of identity, as well as the loss of all that is familiar to you.

When you travel to unknown territories it can result in trauma as the results of the event or events that are experienced by an individual can be physically or emotionally harmful or even life-threatening, leaving lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.

Many people who are new to a country do not have the ability to cope and adapt to their new environment. Although most transition processes generally result in a positive outcome, it is possible that the immigrant can have emotional scarring as a result on how they arrived to their new environment.

The Immigration Process

There are four identified stages of immigration that causes trauma

1.      Pre-migration trauma - The events that a person experienced prior to immigration factored with the reason why the person or persons decided to leave their country of birth.

2.      Trauma during transit - The second stage that causes immigration trauma is when the person experiences traumatic events during immigration.

3.    Trauma genic experiences - This is when asylum seekers and other immigrants may experience trauma as host countries are not always welcoming.

4.     Post-migration stress or trauma- Further trauma can be caused due to sub-standard living conditions in the host country. The reasons for this may include unemployment, lack of adequate support and minority persecution.

Immigration and Culture Shock

Along with immigration trauma some may experience culture shock due to the different culture and environmental factors they have encountered.

Culture shock can be described as a natural state of disorientation, psychological and physical, that a person can experience when entering a different environment or culture.

The loss of social support networks, and loss of independence, can both contribute to culture shock, which may manifest as:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Loss of self-confidence

  • Insomnia

  • Grief – mourning of the life left behind

  • Loneliness

  • Feeling isolated

  • Over sensitivity

  • Annoyance

Sometimes trauma can be overwhelming, and the sufferer feel stuck or trapped by constantly feeling in danger, and painful memories that do not go away, which can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD. In cases where children suffer from immigration trauma they can be helped by Parenting and Family Interventions (PFI) with the guidance of the counsellor.

Immigration is not for the faint of heart. If you or any person in your family is struggling with anyk form of immigration trauma, remember there is help available.

Useful helplines

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