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Migrating from one’s home country can pose multiple stresses to an individual. Mental health experts have coined a term known as “cultural bereavement” which can occur when an individual immigrates to another country and leaves many things of value behind - from family and friends to culture and language. Cultural bereavement can be described as a type of grief reaction relating to the loss of one’s social structure and culture. Symptoms of cultural bereavement include feelings of guilt over abandoning one’s culture and homeland, constant images and a preoccupation of the past, and feelings of anxiety.
Refugees, or migrants that leave their home country due to civil unrest or political upheaval, are especially at risk for cultural bereavement. Because they probably can never return back to their home country, grief might be especially apparent. Moreover, refugees might present with feelings of guilt over abandoning their family and friends who are still living in their country of origin. Sometimes, refugees might experience an initial period of well-being, but then continue to become alienated from mainstream society and even demonstrate antisocial behavior.
Cultural bereavement can be mitigated or aggravated by factors relating to cultural identity, ethnic density, and cultural congruity. In regards to cultural identity, culturally bereaved individuals might show improvement as they become acculturated and develop more of a sense of belonging to their new country. Also cultural bereavement is often alleviated when an individual develops the linguistic and social skills that are prevalent in mainstream society.
It is also believed that the more differences that exist between an individual’s home country and country of residence, the more difficulties immigrants might face and the more likelihood of experiencing feelings of grief and loss towards their original culture. The level of collectivist culture in the society can also play a part in cultural bereavement. For example, if an individual migrates from a collectivist society that values collective identity and inter-dependence to an individualistic society that stresses individualism and independence, they might experience more adjustment difficulties than a person migrating to a country that shares the societal values of their country of origin.
Cultural bereavement could be alleviated if immigrants maintain a level of connection to their country of origin, or maintain a high level of ethnic density. For example, A Vietnamese migrant living in the United States might experience less feelings of grief over the loss of his Vietnamese culture if he works at maintaining and promoting his culture. This could be through socializing with other Vietnamese migrants living in the US, and organizing Vietnamese cultural events in his community.