Why do female Eastern European migrants suffer from depression?

The women who migrate from Eastern to Western Europe to perform care work often suffer from mental illnesses such as depression or psychosis, new research shows. The phenomenon is called 'the Italian syndrome'. 

Claudia Ciobanu
Claudia Ciobanu NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Why do female Eastern European migrants suffer from depression? - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

The condition was originally identified in Romania among middle-aged women who had returned home from working abroad as caregivers for sick people or children. They were among the nearly two million Romanians that are estimated to have migrated to Italy over the last decades.

In Romania, little attention is paid to their fates, except for the occasional stories about the "orphans" they leave behind. When they go abroad to work, many women are often forced to give their children over to the care of fathers, grandparents or even neighbors for long periods of time.

Psychiatrists noticed that these women commonly suffer from depression, often combined with psychotic episodes. In the end, they usually return to Romania and undergo medical treatment.

Recently, Italian anthropologists visited Romania to study the phenomenon, called "the Italian syndrome". While the name was given based on the experience of Romanian migrant women working in Italy, the researchers believe that this condition occurs among many Eastern European female migrants in various Western European countries.

mental health, migration, women's issues

Details from the story:

  • "The Italian syndrome" is defined as a pathology affecting women who migrate from Eastern Europe to perform care work. It often extends to the children they leave behind, who suffer from similar conditions. It starts with physical symptoms, such as pain and extreme fatigue, and develops into long-term depression and episodes of paranoia.
  • Italian anthropologists are currently in eastern Romania researching the cases of women committed to a psychiatric hospital in the city of Iasi.
  • The psychiatrists who treat the women claim that, while migration initially brings optimism to the whole family as their economic situation improves, later depression and other illnesses start to occur because the family suffers from separation.
  • In the last two years, over 3,000 women were diagnozed with depression and committed to the Iasi psychiatric hospital. 5% of them presented symptoms of "the Italian syndrome".
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