“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”–John Ed Pearce
I’ve been thinking about homesickness lately. Most of the literature seems focused on younger children and adolescents. One of the things that made me think of it is that I’ve just finished reading Isabel Wilkerson’s book, “The warmth of other suns” . The migration of African-Americans in the southern United States to the north sometimes led to something which might be called homesickness. Some returned to the south, a place that inflicted pain and death by lynching among other atrocities.
I know something about homesickness; I’ve been there myself; it’s a universal experience–and not just for kids, adolescents, and young adults. It was difficult to find anything recently published about homesickness in the medical literature relevant to psychiatry. I don’t think we need to worry about finding it in the DSM-5. However, it can exacerbate preexisting depressive and anxiety disorders and lead to physical health problems, and even quitting college or other growth experiences away from a place we call home.
Many don’t believe that homesickness can be prevented, but some experts think otherwise. In their report on homesickness in college students, Thurber and Walton mention assessment scales and preventive strategies . Some risk factors for homesickness can be emigration from other countries, racism and cultural insensitivity (like migration from the southern to the northern U.S.?), younger chronological age, insecure attachment to parents (maybe an insecure attachment style regardless of chronological age?), and low perceived control. Among the protective factors are said to be a sense of connection, the ability to make close friends with whom one can confide, essentially greater self-confidence, and older chronological age, although the last one didn’t always work for me, even when I became a geezer.
According to the authors, some strategies to prevent homesickness include:
- Encouragement of self-compassion, to take it easy on yourself; forgive yourself for feeling bad.
- Establish healthy life-style choices.
- Talking about homesickness doesn’t cause it–find someone to talk to about it.
- Remember that letting mental health professionals help can be done without getting major psychiatric labels or drugs dropped on you.
Homesickness is normal for the vast majority of persons who leave home for the first or the nth time. For some, home turns out to be the right place to go. For many, home is more of an existential, emotional, or spiritual posture than a place. The most trustworthy guides can be good friends and your heart.
1. Wilkerson, I. (2010). The warmth of other suns : the epic story of America’s great migration. New York, Random House.
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America.
2. Thurber, C. A. and E. A. Walton (2012). “Homesickness and adjustment in university students.” J Am Coll Health 60(5): 415-419.
The transition to college or university can be an exciting new experience for many young adults. For some, intense homesickness can make this move difficult, even unsustainable. Homesickness–defined as the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home–carries the unique hallmark of preoccupying thoughts of home and attachment objects. Sufferers typically report depression and anxiety, withdrawn behavior, and difficulty focusing on topics unrelated to home. For domestic and international university students, intense homesickness is particularly problematic. It can exacerbate preexisting mood and anxiety disorders, precipitate new mental and physical health problems, and sometimes lead to withdrawal from school. New research, consolidated here for the first time, points to promising prevention and treatment strategies for homesick students, the result of which can be a healthy, gratifying, and productive educational experience.