In Sweden, a Strange Malady Is Seen in Young Immigrants

'New Yorker': They fall into a coma-like state, but are doctors encouraging it?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2017 8:39 PM CDT
Updated Apr 2, 2017 9:33 AM CDT

(Newser) – The New Yorker casts a light on an unusual malady in Sweden known as uppgivenhetssyndrom, or resignation syndrome. It's unique not only to Sweden but to a particular group: the children of immigrants. The syndrome plays out like this: The kids learn their family is being deported and fall into a coma-like state, with the typical patient described in one medical journal as “totally passive, immobile, lacks tonus, withdrawn, mute, unable to eat and drink, incontinent and not reacting to physical stimuli or pain.” It can last weeks, months, and in a few cases, for four years. Cases began cropping up about a dozen years ago, around the time the nation tightened its definition of political refugees. In fact, children tend to come out of it only if their families are granted permission to stay—and, bringing things full circle, the Migration Board sometimes allows families to stay because a child is suffering from the syndrome.

So what's going on? While the physical ailments have been authenticated by medical professionals, the story by Rachel Aviv questions whether the power of suggestion and perhaps something akin to national guilt are factors. Aviv follows one leading specialist, Dr. Elisabeth Hultcrantz, as she visits patients and finds that the doctor "seems to inadvertently reinforce their symptoms." Hultcrantz, for example, encourages families to get feeding tubes quickly when a child begins exhibiting symptoms, the better to make an impression on immigration officials. She's like an old-school "medicine man" in that sense, with "the authority to shape people’s beliefs about their own biology," writes Aviv. It results in "a nocebo effect: the families expect that unless they are granted residency—the only medicine—their children will waste away." Click to read the full story. (Read more Sweden stories.)

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