By Nicole Beaver
Hello again, readers! Welcome to another year at Concordia. For those of you who don’t know what Breaking the Silence is, it is an informative column written by a disabled individual (yours truly) on the subject of mental health, mental illness, and all sorts of subjects regarding the mind. The brain is an organ after all, so it’s best to keep it healthy since we’re using it to pursue a higher level of education–don’t you agree?
As I wrote this article, I was reminded of my first time leaving home. I have always been a very independent person so this did not affect me as far as I recall, but for those of my readers who are very new to living on their own, this is for you. This article is about homesickness; its inner workings, its effects, and how to manage it. Please note that I’m not a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist in any way; however, I have done my research and will be quoting frequently from the sources I present.
Let’s get right into the topic of homesickness. Kindergarteners get it on their first day of school. Children get it on their first time at an overnight camp. And yes, we adults get it when we step out into the unknown, into the realm of university. In her song “The House That Built Me”, musician Miranda Lambert describes the sensation felt by many this time of year: “you leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.” Homesickness is a viable condition that does affect our psyche and its symptoms vary. But first of all, does attachment to a place we are familiar with play a role in our psychological well-being?
In history and culture, the answer oftentimes is yes. In fact, homesickness was labelled a disease in 1688! However, in 1898, Kline, one of the first psychologists in the field, argued that science supports the migratory impulse as healthy and attachment to home an obstacle to well-being. He shamed those who loved their home as “provincial, plodding and timid,” whose interests “identified with the conservative and microscopic affairs of society.” Those who were more suitable in the realm were praised; the migrant was a person who “has manifold interests, and finds profitable objects and kindred spirits in a variety of situations…in the commercial, speculative, daring, progressive, macroscopic interests of the world” (Homesickness: A Sign of Strength or Weakness? – Psychology Today). The second question is this: is our desire to be nowhere but where we call “home” actually a disorder? Or is it just a simple inconvenience in our modern world that relies on our mobility for economic, technological, and social progress?
Well, the answer to that is somewhat straightforward. A number of studies done upon the subject have suggested that homesickness can be linked to psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, difficulty adjusting to new situations, and psychosomatic health problems. “Psychosomatic” is a word used to describe a physical illness (or other condition) that is caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress (Webster’s Dictionary). Our ability as humans to form emotional attachments and bonds with a person, pet, or place is sometimes our psychological kryptonite. So while not an actual documented mental illness or disability, much like grief, homesickness is in fact a “gateway” to some mental health problems typically seen in other disorders.
Finally, what are the effects of homesickness on those of us attending university? In a 2017 study done on the subject (College Student Homesickness: An Overview – Skyfactor Mapworks), research shows that out of a group of students, 5-21% of them reported moderate to extreme levels of regret, and some think about going home all the time. According to the study, both separation and distress are homesickness factors that are related to first-year student transition; these include commitment, social integration, peer connections, and satisfaction with the institution. Ultimately, the number of people who drop out due to homesickness is high. Numerous articles online have cited that the number is in the thousands.
So what can we do to combat this? A few key points are outlined by Dr. Klapow, a psychologist who has built a system in order to help those struggling with separation. Their advice is the following:
- Understand that what you’re going through is normal. According to Dr. Klapow, “even if no one’s saying anything, chances are most people are feeling [to varying degrees] homesickness at one point or another. Feeling homesick is part of learning to live a new life—you can’t do it without going through some sort of adjustment period.” Yes, everyone goes through it, even if its effects are mild and brief. I can’t tell you after burning my first meal how much I missed having dinner cooked for me!
- Get used to your new surroundings. According to Dr. Klapow, a big part of feeling homesick is feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. Get more familiar with your college’s campus and the surrounding area by exploring, either alone or with friends. Download Google Maps, find out what’s around here. I personally know an amazing little cafe and sweet shop that’s nearby as well as a pool! The more you feel like you know the layout, the more you’ll adapt.
- Stay connected with home—but not too connected! Maintaining your relationships with your family and friends from back home is important in helping you miss them less, but according to Dr. Klapow, part of getting over homesickness is severing emotional ties from home. “[This separation] is part of learning to live differently, not just be[ing] away of home,” he says. But Dr. Klapow also insists that making time to talk your friends and family “a few times a week” or “even once a day, while you’re still settling in” is worth it. That’s something I made sure to do, and it helped a lot.
In the end, all you can do is bite the bullet and try to adjust. Let it be known now that if it really gets to you, there is no shame in quitting. I hope this year treats you well and you are able to make it through. I’m not the type of person to tell other people to “stay positive,” but there isn’t any sense in not trying.